THE SCOTTISH Crofting Federation has voiced their frustration at the Scottish Government's allocation of the £160m convergence uplift, calling it a 'shameful injustice'.

Despite acknowledging Fergus Ewing's proposal as a 'slight improvement' over the NFUS proposal, the SCF's chair Yvonne White has stressed that the Government's plans still favour Region 1 farmers which she claims is 'not true to the principles of convergence', accusing the minister of being 'misleading'.

"The original intention of ‘External Convergence’ was to ensure a more equal distribution of direct agricultural support between member states. Member states that had direct payments per hectare below 90% of the Union average were to close the gap between their level and this average, with all member states arriving by financial year 2020 at a minimum level representing roughly 75% of the Union average.

“Scottish Government has clearly disregarded this intention in allocating the greatest proportion of the money to Region 1, land that already receives 91% of the European average! This is a shameful injustice – the very words Mr Ewing used to describe the UK Government’s original misappropriation of this money. The justification given by Scottish Government is cringingly weak and demonstrates warped political will," she stressed. "It looks remarkably like a ruse to give more to those that already have. It does not, as Mr Ewing claimed, help ‘those who need help most – those who farm on our marginal land’. These producers on Region 3 land still receive a pitiful amount," she explained.

“The written information has been careful to not mention LFASS but Mr Ewing has made it clear in his address to parliament that he sees this money as a way of making up the LFASS shortfall caused by the Scottish Government by not introducing a new system based on Areas of Natural Constraint when they had the opportunity. Is this even legal?," she queried. "It would be blatantly stealing money that has a clear purpose to fill a self-inflicted funding gap. We reiterate our assertion that the convergence money exists to compensate producers who have received very low per-hectare payments. The LFASS gap will need to be filled, as Mr Ewing has pledged, but from elsewhere.

“Crofters are very cynical about this allocation” continued Ms White. “Scottish Government has perverted the intention of convergence and is taking money that rightfully should be only used for those with payments below the threshold and instead is giving it to those above. There can be no moral justification for this no matter how cleverly the sleight of hand is performed.”

Mr Ewing addressed the Scottish Crofting Federation on twitter: “I have offered to meet with the Scottish Crofting Federation to discuss the approach in more detail it is important to recognise that the regions do not follow a clear geographical split,” he explained. “Most farms will be made up of a mixture of the three regions. For example, a number of Scotland’s crofting counties will include Region One land, in particular parts of Orkney and Caithness.

“While current payment rate for Region 1 is higher than Regions 2 & 3, the rate is still below the EU average. The approach I’m taking represents a significant shift in emphasis of support away from the most productive in favour of supporting Scotland’s more marginal land,” he stressed.

Mr Ewing went on to explain that the proportional increase against the existing payment rates will be much higher in Regions 2 and 3 with 75% and 67% increase in payment rates respectively, comparing to Region 1 which will see an increase of 11%.

He goes on to defend his decision to allocate convergence funds to top up the LFASS shortage: “My ambition has been to maintain funding to the LFA, if a suitable means could be found to do so, in recognition of the hardship that those farming in our remote and fragile areas face.

“I know that SCF wanted to shift to ANC – I consulted stakeholders in summer 2016 if we should do this & most agreed that because of Brexit, we should wait. There will eventually be a shift to a different system – either ANC because we are staying in the EU or something else,” he continued. “Crofters will be consulted alongside other stakeholders. I strongly believe that our proposed approach targets those who need it most. I am absolutely clear that, in the spirit of convergence, this money will support the most marginalised farmers & crofters in recognition of difficulties under which they farm & steward our countryside,” he concluded.