SCOTLAND should be in charge of formulating its own agricultural policy after Brexit, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted this week.
Speaking at the National Farmers Union Scotland AGM in Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon stressed that agriculture was a more economically important part to Scotland than the UK, so it was vitally important that its government had a strong say in the current EU exit negotiations and in shaping farming legislation thereafter.
Questioned about the suggestion that Westminster might now be considering an ‘all-UK’ approach to farm policy, she was emphatic – “To me there should be no argument here. Agriculture policy is devolved. That is factual.
“But I am not saying that we shouldn’t have a UK-wide framework. Even if we were independent, we should have that.
"But it is vital that any powers which are transferred from the European Union, at the time of Brexit, must go to the Scottish Parliament rather than to Westminster. It is the best way of ensuring that future decisions on farming reflect Scotland’s distinct priorities."
Sitting alongside her rural economy minister Fergus Ewing, Ms Sturgeon said that ScotGov was more than ready to set to work building a post-Brexit farming policy, but simply could not proceed until it had been given an idea of the budget that would be available.
In that budgetary uncertainty, talk of an all-UK policy was more than unwelcome, particularly because in its current devolved form, Scotland’s farm support budget did not arrive through the Barnett formula that allocates other areas of public spending. If it were to be ‘Barnetted’, she noted, it would be halved.
Mr Ewing recalled statements made by Defra minister George Eustice before the Brexit referendum: “Mr Eustice, who is a clever man, said that funding would be ‘at least matched, and added ‘without a shadow of a doubt’,” recalled Mr Ewing, who suggested it was now Defra’s ‘duty’ to make good on that statement.
The other key point to emerge from Ms Sturgeon’s NFUS appearance was the announcement that Professor Russel Griggs will now chair a group designed to review the Scottish Government’s approach to Greening and make recommendations for a profitable, sustainable and environmentally friendly industry.
As part of this review, she said the group will consider the detailed implementation arrangements for the planned changes to 2018’s Greening rules, announced the day before by Mr Ewing.
In that first tranche of changes, Mr Ewing offered to include hedges as counting towards ‘Ecological Focus Area’ commitments, and also to bring agro-forestry, supported under the Forestry Grant Scheme, into EFA eligibility.
NFUS director of policy, Jonnie Hall, said: “The union has been pressing for some time for a number of sensible, pragmatic changes to Greening. We have taken CabSec Fergus Ewing on farm to show him the problems that Greening can cause and how we can have a more practical approach that delivers for both farmers and the environment.
“We welcome the announcement from Scotland’s First Minister that there is to be a review of Greening and we look forward to engaging fully with Professor Russell Griggs when that work commences,” he said.