Neil Shand: Disbelief at a speech full of playground politics and no beef or substance
1st July 2023
I was fortunate enough to be invited to the QMS stand at the Royal Highland Show to hear Mairi Gougeon Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and the Islands make her much anticipated announcements on the continuation of the beef calf scheme.
We had more or less a full house of the most-efficient beef producers in Scotland with processors and retailers, both very well represented. It is difficult to imagine a better audience – you’d think it would be a perfect opportunity to showcase your plans and deliver to an industry that is desperate for details on how the new Agriculture Policy will look.
Instead, I sat and listened in utter disbelief to a plethora of playground politics, a selection of cheap shots at the Brexit vote and Boris Johnson, and every other general dig that could be made towards Westminster. The Minister bemoaned the fact Scotland had been removed from its biggest market and declared only Independence would fix that.
In terms of beef, England is Scotland’s biggest customer and biggest market, by some distance, a fact which continues to be ignored by the party in power. I’m sorry Ms Gougeon, but you’re an elected politician, supposedly serving our industry’s best interests, and we deserve better!
At the very least, you should be aware of the facts and the damage that continued political ignorance of the critical state the industry is having. Our producers do not want playground politics, they want to know how you are going to fix the issues before it is too late.
When the announcement on the extension of the beef calf scheme did come, it was brief and consistent with other announcements in that it was lacking in detail. The news is that it will continue but future payments will be based on calving index, with government working with the SBA and QMS on the detail.
The majority of bystanders were left speechless by the lack of relevant content which had little to do with our industry and was all about independence. The industry deserves better, although I do somehow feel sorry for Ms Gougeon, whose job was initially offered to – and turned down by – Kate Forbes.
The Conservatives updated us on their rural policy on Friday – it is not much better. Lots of great sound bites, but no substance. I do not wish this to sound overly political, but neither party is appealing to the rural community at the moment.
I was left with the feeling that if the SNP ditched the greens, and fully committed to Agriculture and the value of the rural economy, independence might just be achieved. By the same token, if the opposition did likewise, then it might just be stopped forever. Food for thought!
What we currently have within the UK is a car crash scenario where all the home countries have agricultural support which is funded by Westminster. Since Brexit, there is no framework to constrain countries as stipulated within the CAP; in theory the whole budget in Scotland could end up in the hands of the RSPB.
I was fortunate enough to attend the UK Farm To Fork summit at 10 Downing Street last month.
My main request was that food production resilience and security – along with self-sufficiency – be viewed as a UK issue; devolution should have no place in this sector. It is the only way to ensure our island’s food security – someone needs to wake up and smell the coffee, before it is too late.