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The battle of St Andrews

TOP POLITICIANS on either side of the Scottish independence debate turned NFU Scotland's St Andrews agm into a battleground for farmers' votes this week.

Alyn Smith MEP
Alyn Smith MEP

In one corner, Scottish Secretary of State, Borders LibDem MP Michael Moore, told farmers they had the 'best of both worlds' as part of the UK – and in the other, SNP MEP Alyn Smith told them they had 'nothing to fear' from independence.

Making the case for a 'no' vote, Mr Moore insisted that the current constitutional arrangement was working well for Scottish farmers: "Where it is in your interests to have decisions taken at the Scottish level, the Scottish Parliament ensures this happens; where it is in your interests to have a louder voice with international influence and collective bargaining power in Europe, the UK gives you that too," he trumpeted.

Mr Moore went on to accuse the Scottish Government of failing to clarify the terms of the EU membership it would seek for an independent Scotland, including what the priorities would be in terms of agricultural policy.

Farmers had to appreciate, said Mr Moore, that if Scotland did go it alone, it would have to apply to join the EU as a new separate, successor state and start from scratch: "And in the here and now, we know neither what terms the Scottish Government would seek, nor what terms 27 other member states would be prepared to agree."

Mr Moore's anti-independence bombardment was answered in no uncertain terms by a defiant Mr Smith, who told farmers they had nothing to fear from Scotland going it alone.

Stressing to the audience that he would not "flannel them," the European Parliament agri-committee member was in rampant form, and in a direct swipe at Mr Moore, said that his talk of a lengthy wait for EU re-admission on poorer terms was 'simply scaremongering.' The 18 month gap between the independence referendum and actual accession would, insisted Mr Smith, be adequate time to arrange a smooth transition.

"The EU won't want to lose Scotland – we have oil, renewable resources and a huge area of fishing waters," he said. "There is no doubt we will be an EU member. We don't have to join any queue to get in and we already have every compliance imaginable."

Mr Smith said independence was the next logical step after devolution. "We have done better with a bit of independence and we would do a lot better with a bit more," he said. The alternative, he noted, was staying with a UK Government that was itself 'sleepwalking on a trajectory' out of the European Union.

Responding to questions from the floor, Mr Smith said Scotland would retain sterling and dismissed fears about the impact independence might have on Scotland's food and drink trade with the rest of the UK.

But the key question the farming audience wanted answered was what would happen to the single farm payment in the gap between a 'yes' vote in the independence referendum and securing a new deal with the EU? Wigtownshire farmer Robin Christie asked if Scottish farmers might find themselves taking a 'year out' from the support system?

Mr Smith was explicit: "There will be no year out. CAP reform will be settled ahead of any referendum, with Scotland's payment secured."

Mr Moore, however, insisted that the answer was unclear, and repeated his claim that an independent Scotland's involvement in the CAP would have to be negotiated with the existing 27 member states.

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