Union faces biggest battle yet, with the future of Scottish farming at stake - Andrew Arbuckle

For the past 100-plus years, the National Farmers Union of Scotland, as a lobbying organisation, has fought many many battles on behalf of the farming industry.

The number of cattle retained under the proosals has already proved a flashpoiint
The number of cattle retained under the proosals has already proved a flashpoiint

Most of those have been in defence of one of Scotland’s largest industries and they range from minor skirmishes through to major confrontations. Several times in memory this latter action saw hundreds of farmers congregating on the quayside to prevent the importation of Irish cattle. Other major battles have seen the Union support demonstrations outside Scottish whisky premises and milk processing factories over unfair practices

Less numerous are the union’s front foot forays into promoting the farming industry but Farm Assurance schemes would not be on the agenda if NFUS had not thrown its weight behind these consumer confidence-boosting structures.

Another scheme promoted by the union, with many of its members farming difficult tracts of hill land, was to successfully get less favoured areas included in European Union farm support schemes. This was a major victory for a lobby organisation from a small part of a member state.

And with the Scottish Government currently mute on future policy in the countryside, the Scottish NFU are now putting their weight behind a new support scheme to replace the Common Agricultural Policy.

The new proposals which have emerged from the Farmer Led Groups (FLG) are now being promoted as the way forward for the industry.

It is only fair to remark that I, and many others, were sceptical when these five FLG sector groups were set up last year as we thought that it was only former farming Minister, Fergus Ewing ‘kicking the can’ down the road to save him deciding on future policy.

But now, the farming industry has coalesced around these plans which were lobbed through the Scottish Government doors just before the election earlier this year.

This past week witnessed the union, and almost everyone in the allied industries and special interest groups, coming out strongly in favour of these proposed solutions to future support policies.

The selling point as far as the union goes is that the proposed policy not only delivers support to farmers through more efficient agricultural practices, but it is also tied in with environmental benefits and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As the modern slang goes, “What’s not to like?”

After listening to the union and the policy experts, brought in to metaphorically test drive the new proposals last week, there was a view that this was the pathway to Scottish agriculture’s future. Benefits all round for farmers, environmentalists and the ‘green’ lobby.

So, what can go wrong?

The main problem is that the union is not in the driving, or decision-making, seat There has already been a skirmish between the Scottish Government civil servants and the farmers with the former wanting to see fewer belching, burping cattle being retained in the support scheme than has been proposed by the FLG. Will their opposition translate into the Scottish Government view?

The First Minister wants a strong “climate change” missive for the forthcoming international conference in Glasgow and, as she prepares to send Scotland’s message to the world, she may tolerate the loss of a few cattle as a small price to pay.

On the other hand, she will realise that the aforementioned former farm minister Fergus, the old fox, has whispered that he will continue to make it clear that he supports the farmers’ proposal, and the Scottish Government does not like rifts.

The issue is further complicated by politicians within the Government who have little love for the farming community. Their preference could be to invest a larger percentage of the support cash into environmental objectives.

And that is before we come to the Green Party whose agenda for farming would bring massive change to Scottish farming. The importance or otherwise of this concern depends on how important it is for the Scottish Government to get the Greens on-side when running the country.

So far, the environmental lobby has been strangely quiet, but this is not likely to last. As soon as they realise that there will be cash for environmental objectives they will be in there.

The union is far from securing the support it needs for policies suitable for the Scottish farming industry. This could be one of the biggest battles in its history.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​


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