By Peter Chapman
Scottish Conservative shadow secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity
"I THINK everybody involved in Scottish farming is well aware of the issues around the allocation of Common Agricultural Policy convergence money.
I know that the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, has worked with NFU Scotland on this subject and set up talks on a review of the budget allocation last year.
I have also raised this issue with DEFRA Ministers at Westminster recently and also received an assurance that it would be reviewed.
I think the Scottish Conservatives have shown, particularly since May, that we are ready and willing to stand up for the interests of our farmers.
This was apparent throughout the CAP payment fiasco as we held the SNP government to account for the repeated failures in the system that left our industry in the worst financial crisis for a generation.
While the Scottish Government, in my view, has yet to offer anything constructive in terms of its willingness to work with the UK Government, we on the opposition benches are very keen to play our part in securing the best possible deal for all parts of the UK.
I was at the NFU Scotland conference and was delighted to hear Ruth Davidson speak with passion about securing a positive outcome for our farming industry.
Ruth noted that a recent survey of young farmers by the Royal Bank of Scotland found that a majority expected Brexit to lead to both improved prices for UK agricultural products and improved prospects for the exporting of our farm produce.
Unsurprisingly, the survey also showed that there is no clear consensus on what Brexit will mean for agriculture.
I think that echoes what many of us have been saying since the referendum. There are no easy answers, but I can tell you there is a huge prize to be won for Scottish agriculture.
Surely we have the expertise to design our own system, one that caters specifically for our farmers, rather than having to accommodate farmers from the Arctic to the Mediterranean?
First and foremost, it needs to be a system that is simpler and easier to access and does not fill every farmer with terror that a genuine mistake could lead to huge financial penalties.
We need a policy that delivers support to producers and not slipper farmers.
It must drive innovation, the uptake of new technology, the value of science and deliver an efficient and profitable industry that respects and enhances our environment and has animal welfare at its heart.
For the last 20 years of CAP, each review has seen a reduction in the pot of money available for farmers and an increase in complicated red tape and bureaucracy. That is not going to change in the near future.
Across Europe, budgets are under pressure. With CAP being the largest spending item on the EU balance sheet, it was never realistic for spending to be maintained when southern European economies are struggling so badly.
Fortunately, going forward, the UK economy looks in much better shape to deliver the support agriculture needs.
We need to argue strongly with one voice that agriculture needs to receive roughly the same level of support after 2020 as it is receiving now. Until the marketplace delivers a better price for our high quality products this support is vital.
However, it is time for the SNP to accept that we won’t be members of the EU after 2019 and to start planning for the future after Brexit and stop trying to engineer grievance and division at every turn.
As we look forward, we need to look to expand trade, not just with Europe, but the rest of the world. There are huge markets in Asia, for instance, with increasing numbers of wealthy consumers who have a growing appetite for our quality produce.
We have good reason to be optimistic that Scottish issues will be taken seriously at UK level, not least because of my own party’s efforts. But I would re-iterate again, we need to see a change in attitude from the SNP. It is time to accept the result of the EU referendum, work together, and get the best deal we can."