SCOTTISH Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has warned that an “almighty political row” is on the cards over whether Holyrood or Westminster should run Scotland’s agricultural policy after Brexit.
Ms Davidson said that she would adopt a ‘pragmatic’ view on devolution of agricultural decision-making following Brexit, she agreed that the ‘distinctive needs’ of Scottish farmers should be taken into account in the formulation of a replacement for the CAP.
“The prime minister made it clear that there will be no powers which have been devolved taken back to Westminster. But some decisions need to be taken there,” she said. “For many issues, it is likely to be an obvious case of ‘where does it best sit’. While I understand that everyone wants answers now, some of those answers are yet to be given.”
Ms Davidson stressed that she didn’t want to see was another Scottish independence referendum, which she believed would be to the detriment of the farming industry in Scotland: “I think it would be foolhardy for us to place barriers within our own UK domestic market. I don’t see the upside of leaving one complex regulatory regime in Brussels, only to burden farmers with two regulatory schemes within the UK.
“There is another option being floated before us all in Scotland – and that is to leave the UK negotiations altogether and for Scotland either to pursue a so-called differentiated deal within the UK, or to leave the UK altogether. And neither approach, it seems to me, works in the interests of Scottish farming.
“Since the Brexit debate, we have been guilty sometimes of treating the European single market and our own UK domestic market as if they are exactly the same. They are not,” she continued. “Leaving aside all the emotional and historical arguments for the union, the reality is that the UK is a highly integrated economic unit of which Scotland is a part and upon which our prosperity depends – and where fully 85% of Scotland’s agri-exports go.
“As Neil Francis, a director at Scottish Trade International – the Scottish Government’s own export body – put it recently: ‘Why would we try to make it more difficult to trade with our largest trading partner or reduce the amount of trade that we do with the rest of the UK? Whatever circumstances play out, it will be paramount that we protect free trade or the open market with the rest of the UK’.
“And even assuming a so-called differentiated deal would be possible, there is simply no way of guaranteeing that either it, or independence, would keep that market access fully open,” she added. “In fact, the evidence suggests that restrictions would come into force between us and our most important market of all.
“I will be keeping up my request to the First Minister that she drop her threat of a second referendum on independence. I believe we need to face Brexit with the spirit of the entrepreneur looking to use a moment of crisis to find what opportunities come with change. That has always been the approach taken by Scotland’s farming community. To turn challenges into opportunities – to keep rural Scotland productive.”