By Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross MP

Firstly, I want to thank our farmers and the wider agriculture sector for their incredible work in keeping the country moving over the course of the last year. You have gone above and beyond and deserve our utmost thanks.

With a background in dairy farming and as someone who studied at agricultural college, under my leadership the Scottish Conservatives will always be on your side.

Over their 14 years in charge, the SNP have neglected our rural communities for far too long.

They’ve left them in the dark over future funding models, have failed to upgrade vital infrastructure and diminished services available in rural areas.

The Scottish Conservatives are pledging to end the uncertainty for farmers over their future by launching a full public consultation on a policy blueprint for the sector within 100 days of the election. It is astonishing how long the SNP have delayed any sort of proper debate and discussion around future funding models.

We want to implement a scheme which will allow farmers to farm based on their needs, that prioritises simplicity and supports the diversity of our farming and crofting sector.

As we rebuild from the pandemic, we must have measures in place that encourage new entrants into the farming sector. The SNP dropped vital funding schemes that put resources in place to incentivise new entrants, which we would re-open. These include the Young Farmers and the New Entrants Start Up Grants as well as the New Entrants Capital Grant Scheme.

We want to encourage inter-generational partnerships as well as supporting more women in the sector and effective succession planning.

Promoting Scottish produce is key as we ensure the sector will continue to prosper outside of the European Union, as we look to expand exports to other markets around the world. We are committed to a full independent ‘farm to fork’ review of Scotland’s food policy to help inform a new National Food Strategy.

For too long SNP Ministers have failed to ensure the public procurement process utilises enough Scottish produce and we must up our game when it comes to promoting our produce both in Scotland and abroad.

The pandemic has also seen our rural communities have to deal with increased instances of fly-tipping and rubbish being dumped in our beauty spots on top of all the pressures the crisis has put on them. We are committed to clamping down on rural crime by reviewing the sentences handed down, so we treat crime in our rural areas with the importance it deserves.

We would increase the fixed penalties and the maximum fines against those who feel it is okay to litter and fly-tip. Local councils and other agencies need to be fully resourced, so they can confidently punish offenders.

Visit Scotland’s current campaign on responsible tourism would also be extended to provide farmers with resources to explain the outdoor access code and teach our school children about how to protect the countryside.

Our rural communities have also been let down by the SNP when it comes to broadband infrastructure. The SNP’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said he’d resign if he didn’t deliver on their flagship R100 programme. They have failed but, unsurprisingly, he’s still seeking re-election.

As we rebuild from Covid, we will ensure every new home must be built with a fibre connection and that all premises will have full fibre broadband by 2027.

Our farmers and the agriculture sector must be at the heart of decision making in Scotland. They need stability and clarity over their recovery and future funding, not another divisive referendum.

Only a vote for the Scottish Conservatives guarantees a focus on rebuilding our rural communities rather than another reckless referendum under the SNP.