NFU Scotland is to be congratulated on reaching its centenary. It is also to be congratulated in putting on an excellent annual meeting in St Andrews this week where the independence/referendum debate, thankfully, out-muscled the horsemeat scandal at the top of the official and unofficial agendas.
Predictably, the UK government contingent on parade outlined how poverty stricken we would all be under independence, while the SNP delegation promised the exact opposite.
Scratching under the surface of the rhetoric, however, was illuminating. The SNP had home advantage – and used it to telling effect. Alyn Smith once again impressed as he fielded all manner of questions with aplomb. He is surely destined for greater things within his party’s structure.
Richard Lochhead delivered a typical all-embracing speech and excelled at questions, both in the open floor and in front of the press. First Minister, Alex Salmond, spoke briefly at a pre-dinner drinks reception and had his audience in the palm of his hand.
On the other hand, the UK government was represented by the LibDem pair of Scottish Secretary, Michael Moore and Defra minister, David Heath, taking centre stage on Monday. The former, in a rambling oratory, admittedly extolled the virtues of Scottish produce, but in such a way as to put some of the audience – and journalists – to sleep even at that early a stage of the proceedings. The latter then incurred the ire of many attendees when he remarked that England had its share of LFAs too. The fact that Scotland is 85% LFA and England 85% non LFA seemed to have escaped his attention.
When asked by this newspaper if they would support the proposal to remove livestock EID from cross compliance, the UK duo shuffled their feet and mumbled something about consultation. Richard Lochhead answered the same question next day unequivocally by saying he would support any move to divorce EID from cross compliance. That just about summed things up!