Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton unveiled measures to support agriculture during a visit to the Royal Highland Show.

The measures, part of the Lib Dem election manifesto, would see an extra £170m for Scottish farmers as part of a £1bn UK-wide investment programme to support active farming, profit and sustainability.

In addition, the party will negotiate comprehensive vet and plant health agreements to allow farmers the ability to trade with Europe.

In an interview with The Scottish Farmer, Mr Cole-Hamilton, joined by the party agri spokesperson Claire McLaren said: “The Lib Dems are the party of Scottish agriculture and we are the only party promising a year-on-year increase of £170m investment in Scottish farming that will put the industry back on a paying basis after it has been let down by governments north and south of the border.

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“We are also the only party looking to reduce friction with Europe, making it easier to get skilled labour back to Scottish farms and also make it easier to get goods into the Continent.

“We also want to invest in mental health – we know there is a crisis in rural mental health. We want to triple the digital services tax and earmark that money explicitly for mental health services, particularly in rural areas.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton was keen to highlight that his party will be in a strong position to affect Westminster government decisions and is poised to exert influence on power.

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP says Lib Dems will exert influence on the incoming governmentAlex Cole-Hamilton MSP says Lib Dems will exert influence on the incoming government (Image: The Scottish Farmer)

He said: “It may be that we won’t hold the balance of power at Westminster, we have shown in the past that it doesn’t really matter.

“In 1997, the day after the Labour landslide, only the Lib Dems during that campaign had been calling for the Bank of England to be independent, but strong Liberal voices in the new parliament, persuaded Gordon Brown within three days to capitulate and do that.

“With increased, strong local voices on the green benches, we will be making the case for Scottish agriculture, for the £170 million for Scottish farmers.”

Turning to land reform, Mr Cole-Hamilton moved to reassure industry and pointed to his party’s voting record at Holyrood, particularly during the Agriculture Bill, but added there are aspects that required change.

He said: “For me, that’s about transparency on ownership. I’ve led the charge on this at Holyrood into opening up the land registries to see the shell-companies that own big tracts of Scotland, and I’m under Kremlin sanction for doing it.

He said: “We don’t believe in this class war approach to farming, and we recognise that in a lot of cases, subsidies aren’t going to large landowners, it is often going to the tenant farmers who may be operating marginal businesses.

“We don’t see agriculture as an ‘us and them’ situation. During the Agriculture Bill, some of the Green amendments were just class war, but didn’t recognise that game shooting for example is done sustainably and ethically and is really important for job creation in rural Scotland.

“Things like that should not be ideological frontiers for some kind of class war. The Land Reform Bill does offer opportunities to address unintelligent land use, but does also come with risks and I’m determined this does not become an ‘us versus them battle’.

His colleague, Ms McLaren said the concern was that land reform measures had an approach of the Highland clearances in a different guise.