For an administration troubled by a low rate of economic growth, the Scottish Government is doing little to help itself with the continued fiasco over late CAP payments to farmers. Like any business, the agriculture industry is run on projected revenues, and if it is sold short, new investment will be the first cut.
It’s not just the rural economy that suffers. Scotland is trying to build a reputation for excellence in the food and drink industry, with the emphasis on home-grown produce. If the producers face unacceptable delays in receiving payments they are entitled to, this has an inevitable knock-on effect on our ability to develop and enhance the Scottish brand.
The farmers are the obvious victims here, but the issue goes far deeper than a dispute within the directly affected industries. It has become a question of competence.
It is easy to criticise the Scottish Government for every perceived failure recorded under their watch, and there are times when it is clear that opponents carp for the sake of carping. But on delayed payments to farmers, the Scottish Government has no defence left. This matter should have been resolved months ago, but still we hear excuses of IT failures. It’s not good enough.
Where is the leadership required to fix this problem? This week we had confirmation of a new delay to payments being virtually dragged out of the First Minister. She looks weak, and on the back foot. This does not inspire confidence.
All this adds to a building narrative around the SNP which points to a failure to deal properly with the domestic interests the Scottish Parliament was set up to serve. There are similar situations in education and health, where problems which have been apparent for some time have not been addressed adequately. Only in the past year have failings in education been acted on.
We are at a stage where it is far easier to list the Scottish Government’s failures than its successes in recent years. Each new problem, or inability to deal with an existing problem, erodes confidence in an administration that says it will make Scotland stronger, but does not have the record to back up that claim.
And meanwhile, three weeks on from the general election, we wait for a declaration of a revised strategy on a second independence referendum. If as much thought and effort had gone into the CAP payments system as has gone into a referendum strategy, Scotland’s farmers would have been paid long ago.