“WE WANT to have a rural economy which is financially sustainable and protects our provenance and high-quality produce. Leaving the EU, we want to set new higher standards and if we choose to export to new markets, we cannot drop below these standards and will not make deals with the lowest common denominator.”

Those were the sentiments of Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson who insisted that Brexit will in no way leave the UK at a disadvantage when it comes to setting standards for future trade deals, voicing her belief that Scotland will continue to set a precedent on the international stage in selling high quality and high welfare produce.

Then Ms Davidson went on to expand on the importance of encouraging primary producers to break into foreign markets and the different ways in which the government could encourage more entrepreneurial behaviour.

Meeting in her office in the Scottish parliament, Ms Davidson talked me through her life growing up in a rural village.

“People often think when I’ve been an MSP for Glasgow and now for the city centre of Edinburgh that I haven’t got a rural connection but their wrong to assume that. I grew up in rural Fife in a place called Lundin Links, where we were surrounded by arable land, I can remember the rape fields, and nearby there were dairy farms and some specialist breed beef farms. I would go to the Fife show every year and regularly to local point to points, and up to Craigrothie for horse riding. I wouldn’t be the first person you would run to, to deliver a breech birthed lamb, but I can certainly tell one end of a cow from another,” Ms Davidson laughed.

“Our rural economy is enormously important, if you look at the growth of industries right now, our food and drink industry is number one. Last year it made £6 billion in exports to the rest of the world which was up over half a billion on the year before. What makes this industry so valuable is its provenance and quality. I take my hat off to people working in food production over the years who have come to realise the significance of provenance and work hard to make sure we have that value add,” she continued.

“Scotland has 8.5% of the population in the wider UK but a third of the land mass. People come to Scotland for our environment, they come to take in the beautiful scenery. I just spent the weekend in Knoydart, one of the most remote places in Europe, but it attracts people from all over the world because it is so spectacular. This scenery doesn’t happen by accident ¬- the custodians of our countryside work hard to ensure even the wildest desolate parts of Scotland are protected for all their beauty.”


The success of the rural economy relies heavily on the decisions being made by Michael Gove on a future budget allocation for the sector. I asked Ms Davidson what stage we are at in this process and when could farmers expect to feel reassured in making business decisions which will affect the long-term future of their farms.

“I think Michael Gove has been clear in what he wants from the Brexit negotiations in terms of having access to the market but also being able to increase the welfare standards of livestock across the country. He talks about having a productive agriculture sector but also one of the most environmentally friendly in the world,” Ms Davidson replied.

“He has been very clear in terms of what the UK government is going to do regarding support payments. With pillar one and pillar two, he has guaranteed they are set in stone right up until 2022. What I want to see is the Scottish Government telling farmers what that is going to look like in Scotland, as farmers in England and Wales have got that information but it seems to me that Fergus Ewing has chosen not to do anything about that.

“We had the National Farming Union for Scotland at parliament a couple of months ago saying what they want in terms of a post-Brexit environment, at least in the short to medium term, but the only people that seemed to meet with them properly were the Conservatives. We might not agree with everything in the document, but it is a good place to start and it is what farmers in Scotland are telling us and we will listen,” stressed Ms Davidson.

The Scottish Farmer:

A strong turn out from the Scottish Conservatives at the launch of the NFUS 'Policy Change Document' in March outside parliament.


Even with Westminster’s guarantee for payments up until 2022, I asked Ms Davidson if Scotland can expect to receive matched levels of support which take in to account its Less Favoured Areas (LFA) landscape. Given the recent controversy over convergence payments for our hill farmers, can they guarantee that Scottish farmers are going to continue to see a higher proportion of support funding which rightly takes into account the poorer quality ground in Scotland?

“No part of the UK is going to be worse off and that includes Scotland! Money is going to be there, in cash terms, it is going to be the exact same amount as the UK currently gets from the EU until 2022,” she replied. “In terms of LFA, this is one of my concerns and I have been encouraging a review on convergence funding and have been a little bit disappointed that the timetable has slipped. I want to ensure that Scotland’s particular needs are recognised as we don’t have the same landscape as the rest of the UK and you just need to look at parts of the country where you chose to finish cattle on and which parts you chose not to. I want to make sure we have something that complements the differences that Scotland has, so I’m urging very hard to ensure that the review happens as soon as possible and make the most of this important opportunity to state our case for Scotland,” she said.


One of the biggest challenges facing the rural sector is the shortage of migrant labour, a concern both now and in a post-Brexit environment. I asked Ms Davidson to explain what her party is doing to tackle this problem.

“I am acutely aware of the problem of securing a migrant workforce particularly in areas such a soft fruit farming. My colleague Kirstene Hair in Angus is working very hard on this issue of immigration and has raised it many times at PMQ’s and had meetings with Michael Gove to stress its urgency. I have personally spoken to the Home Secretary about migrant labour and it is something myself and colleagues at Westminster are working hard at, it’s about keeping it top of the agenda,” she stressed.

“The farming industry has changed hugely from when I was a young girl and can remember my family in Angus would fit their school holidays around the tattie howking season, kids were expected to help with harvest.

“There isn’t as much money in the sector as there used to be and financially farmers have struggled. Your average income of farming in Scotland is about half of what it was back in 2010/11. It is now down to about £15,000 a year, so this is something we need to address. Do we need to give the grocery regulator better teeth; do we need to look at the pricing system in our shops, can we look at where we can take costs out of the food chain and maybe look at consumers paying a bit more for what they buy?

Ms Davidson continued. “I know Morrisons put in place the idea of a supplement on milk, an extra five pence the public could pay voluntarily for farmer friendly milk. This is something we shouldn’t disregard as we need to have that viability, but we need kids to know there is a promising future in farming.

“There is great work that is being put into educating young people in terms of farm visits to schools – RHET do fantastic work in terms of going in and showing schools that farming is not on its way out and is a viable industry that has a future.”

The Scottish Farmer: Tory leader Ruth Davidson on a visit to a buffalo farm in Fife yesterday

Ruth Davidson strengthens her rural ties in kirkcaldy whilst mounting buffalo bull '007' who belongs to star of 'This Farming Life' series, Stevie Mitchell, during the 2016 election campaign.


The closure of abattoirs across Scotland such as in Orkney is proving a real concern to producers who will have to travel long distances to slaughter their animals. I asked Ms Davidson’s thoughts on the closure and how it plays in to the wider transportation of animals to slaughter argument.

“As it happens, in the last week I have been speaking to Cerco, the operators of the Northern Link ferries and discussed the way in which they are helping farmers to deliver their livestock off the island for slaughter since the abattoir closure in Orkney. They explained how their business model has changed in terms of capacity, adapting to ways in which live animals are transported as opposed to already slaughtered livestock. Now the issue turns to welfare in transit and I am pleased to hear the ferries are very much live to these concerns,” Ms Davidson stated.

“There have been issues as well in terms of lobbying here for the live transport of animals overseas and whether that would have an impact from the outer Isles to the mainland. Animal welfare organisations are keen to end exportation of livestock overseas and figures are increasing e.g. to places like Spain. My concern from an agricultural standpoint is if laws were to change in that way, then actually it is less time on a ferry to France than it is on a ferry from Orkney, and what does that say about the viability of our outer isles?” questioned Ms Davidson.

I asked Ms Davidson if she would support the introduction of mobile abattoirs or home abattoirs, which could cut transport to slaughter?

“We are already seeing a huge change in the way abattoirs are structured and run; we have seen mandatory CCTV brought in, in English abattoirs, which we don’t have in Scotland - I think this is something we should consider.

“Being out of the EU, we now have the power to make decisions for ourselves, but we need to ensure we meet the minimum standard in the EU, so there is no question about us being able to export to our biggest market. However, there is no reason why we can’t make our standards stronger and look at new ways of working. I have to say I haven’t thought about mobile abattoirs, but it is something I am happy to consider,” she stated.

“I’ll speak to our agricultural spokesperson about it, but we have to keep in mind our market. The thing about the inspection regime is that we have a tick in all the boxes which allows us to export freely so we need to make sure all these trade regulations are considered.”


As future decisions are made regarding new trading partners post-Brexit, Ms Davidson assured me that the UK will continue to uphold strict welfare standards and will set the bar even higher than current levels.

“The irony about people who are worried about leaving the EU and whether we can adhere to the EU standards of practice is that actually quite a lot of these regulations were written by the UK. We have been at the forefront in terms of increasing standards and in many ways have gone beyond the standards which have been set. If you look at countries who joined after us e.g. Poland, which has a massive agricultural sector, they had to change their standards to fit in with us as thy hadn’t been so strict,” Ms Davidson explained.

“We want to have a rural economy which is financially sustainable and protects our provenance and high-quality produce. Leaving the EU, we want to set new higher standards and if we chose to export to new markets we cannot drop below these standards and will not make deals with the lowest common denominator,” she stressed.

The Scottish Farmer:

Ruth Davidson is determined that rural Scotland will not suffer as a result of Brexit negotiations and will set new high standards for future trade relations.


In talk of new standards, I asked whether she could envisage a timescale where the government would look to licence GM crops in the UK, which are currently banned under EU legislation.

“I think again one of the great ironies is that some of the best work that is being done on GM research is here in Scotland. If you look at the corridor between Dundee and Perth, the work being conducted on potato blight is fascinating. The public are very frightened of GM as they worry that it is un-environmental. However, if we were able to sort out problems of disease then you would immediately cut down the number of pollutants you are putting in to the soil and wouldn’t need as many insecticides or foreign bodies to treat crops,” Ms Davidson explained.

“The thing about GM is that you must be able to ensure if one farmer uses it then it doesn’t have an impact on surrounding farms that

have chosen not to. There is a lot more discussion to be had but I am not instinctively for banning it and I

think part of the problem we have in Scotland, is we have a chief scientific officer who has stated that there is no scientific reason for GM to be banned and you have a government who doesn’t take what they say on board. Let’s let the science do the talking and if we can cure things like blight or disease, then let’s have a mature conversation before we just ban it outright.”


Rounding off, I asked Ms Davidson how we can better connect primary producers to the success story of Scotland’s food and drink industry and reap the rewards of their labour?

“One of the things we can do is to physically shorten the supply chain by building the architecture which allows producers to sell their product more directly. Part of the issue we have in Scotland is that some of the areas which are the most physically remote are also the most digitally remote. If people can’t physically or digitally get their goods to market then they are going to struggle and the more links in that chain, will allow everyone to take their cut along the way.

“We need to ensure we fully support our farmers if they chose to sell more directly and especially as we leave the EU that we don’t inhibit markets elsewhere. They need to be able to supply locally but also to larger markets abroad. Let’s sell our langoustines to Spain and our Salmon to the Chinese,” she suggested.

“We have agencies that do really good work but there is no single place you can go to for advice on marketing online abroad. We think that’s crazy, let’s set up an e-commerce directorate to help people to break in to markets overseas. Let’s make sure we are combining with the UK government to have our consul and embassy network supporting businesses who want to start in new markets. It’s hard to get used to a Chinese market when you haven’t been there. Let’s introduce people to suppliers and consumers over there and help with the logistics chain. The government must encourage people to be as entrepreneurial as they want to be,” concluded Ms Davidson.