“WE ARE still in a sense of denial in the UK of the scale of loss of wildlife we have had in recent decades and the need to address this,” stressed Patrick Harvie, co-convener of the Scottish Green party.

“Pollinators are critically important for the future of our rural economy and food production. We cannot survive without them and yet we are still allowing them to be decimated using chemicals.”

Mr Harvie made it clear that a future agricultural support system must look to protect our eco-systems, encourage good environmental practice, and aim to restore Scotland’s lost bio-diversity.

Looking ahead to future trade deals, Mr Harvie insisted that his party would look to address the big arguments surrounding a potential downgrading of welfare standards and would fight to maintain Scotland’s reputation as a country associated with high welfare and high-quality produce.

He also criticised the Scottish Government on what he suggested was a lapse in their attitude to animal welfare standards and highlighted the growing dominance of the supermarkets on the market place.

Sitting down with The Scottish Farmer in his constituency in Glasgow, Mr Harvie explained the interdependency of Scotland’s rural and urban communities and the invaluable role the former plays in promoting Scotland on the world stage.

“I have always been an urban dweller but is there anyone who doesn’t have a connection to the food and environmental system we rely so heavily on?” he asked. “An urban community cannot function without a healthy rural community. I may spend more of my time in the city, but I think there is an absolute interconnection between rural and urban, you can’t have one without the other.

“Scotland has a wonderful reputation globally – it offers that sense of a well looked after, high quality natural environment and is associated with high quality food and drink,” he continued. “The things we produce here with attention, care and strict high standards – these are some of the things that define Scotland to people around the world. Whether it comes down to the most basic practical use of the rural economy, putting food on the table or the more intangible idea of the perception of Scotland around the world – it is all intimately tied up with what is happening in rural communities and rural economies.”

Scotland’s image

Mr Harvie assured me that the Scottish Greens will continue to be a voice for the rural sector and were committed to not just ensuring industry survival post-Brexit but to making sure rural Scotland has a prosperous positive future.

“I hope the Scottish Greens envisage a more positive vision of what the rural economy can be rather than other parties who aim to just be better than the status quo,” he insisted. “The current uncertainties around Brexit are an example of that we don’t just want people to survive, we have a responsibility to carve out a positive vision of how Scotland sees its future.

“We could, if you listen to some of the deregulators in the UK government, go down the route of low standards, high volume production, which might be good for the profits of landowners; with meat production from industrial piggeries and feed lot cattle,” he continued. “We could also go down the route of GM crops and other things that downgrade the perception of Scotland, which is associated with high quality produce.

“However, I think most people in the rural economy would hate that and dislike the idea that it is the only way we can make a living. The alternative must be about committing to high value and high quality, committing to a sense of dignity in what we produce. I hope the Greens will be one of the voices who will take on those big long-term arguments – we can do better than we are doing now,” Mr Harvie stressed.

Restoring biodiversity

Michael Gove’s vision for a future agricultural support system for the UK prioritises good environmental practice over livestock production – I asked whether this was sustainable for the food industry?

“The basic argument that our publicly funded support to rural economies needs to shift from production and into favouring sustainable environmental practice and looking after our eco systems is the right move,” he insisted.

“We are still in a sense of denial in the UK of the scale of loss of wildlife we have had in recent decades and the need to address this. There is no reason why even in a city like Glasgow, and certainly outside of our urban areas, that we shouldn’t start to restore that lost biodiversity we have seen in insect life,” he explained.

“Pollinators are critically important for the future of our rural economy and food production. We cannot survive without them and yet we are still allowing them to be decimated by the use of chemicals. Now many are meant to be phased out in terms of agriculture but are still being used in people’s gardens in the urban environment and that’s again sucking in a lot of these species to just lay waste to them.

“Yes we need to pay collectively as a society for things that matter to us, whether that’s a health care system, infrastructure, the care and investment in our natural environment and our food system,” he said. “The current system will have to change away from simpler production techniques into a much wider range of environmental and ecological management systems that can work well with high quality food production. However, It would work poorly and conflict with agriculture if we go down the intensive route, which I hope we won’t.”

Animal welfare

I asked Mr Harvie if there were any key policies or specific actions he would chose to do differently if he were to step into the First Minister’s shoes?

“One of the big areas we have serious problems with the Scottish government’s approach is on animal welfare – there are too many examples – a review on the ban on fox hunting was commissioned by a government that says it’s opposed to fox hunting and then they appointed someone who said explicitly his purpose in the review was to find a way to allow fox hunting to continue,” he said.

“There is the current scandal of mass hare culling and then the contentious tail docking issue, for which there is no real veterinary evidence that there is a necessity. There are a whole range of issues where we feel the Scottish government is missing a trick on animal welfare,” he continued. “Even Michael Gove has taken steps to look at live animal transportation which Fergus Ewing has refused. I believe there are even a few members of the SNP who would agree with that, and would expect them to be doing better.”

Supply chains

Supermarket domination in the marketplace and ever-increasing supply chain price pressures are piling undue stress on Scottish farmers. I asked Mr Harvie, how can we better connect primary producers to the success story of the food and drinks industry and shorten supply chains?

“Supermarkets are not evil. When they started they were a positive complement to the diversity of options on the high street,” he replied. “But now it has got to a point that not only have the supermarkets devastated real choice on the high street, but many whole communities have been changed physically.

“There is also the potential rise of online retail on the grocery market which although it hasn’t eaten into as much of the grocery market as it has with book and videos, it is moving in that direction. This will be yet another shift away from the shorter supply chains we ought to be having,” he continued.

“The idea that a couple of retailers can dominate 70 to 80% or more of the retail sector is profoundly damaging to people’s genuine choice and it’s damaging to jobs on the high street and those independent businesses that offer something additional.

“Produce which grows naturally doesn’t always meet the specification of the supermarkets and producers are limited in their ability to make their own choices of what they are going to produce,” he stressed. “They are constantly having to jump through the hoops that are set there by multinationals, that have no interest in the success of the local economy.

“We need to be looking at using things like planning law to genuinely intervene in the domination of a tiny number of giant multiples in the retail sector and if we take that kind of structural approach to the economy and genuinely start to diversify at the retail end, that will have long term benefits for producers and consumers,” Mr Harvie concluded.