Here’s a sobering question, rather than a pointless wish for 2019.

How many Scottish farmers will work for less than the minimum wage in 2019? Talking to friends over the festive season who work in professions that support the farming sector (accountants, advisors, bankers), thousands by the sounds of it. There is currently an air of inevitability about this quiet unheralded tragedy unfolding across rural Scotland.

Industry leaders and politicians, totally transfixed by Brexit, appear completely oblivious. Or maybe it’s just too difficult to comprehend or sort, so it’s easier to ignore it?

For Scotland’s hills and uplands – where the majority of this is happening – it seems that our government is also intent on speeding up this process. Maybe on the premise that a quick death is preferable to a slow one. Who knows?

Of course, I refer to the perverse 20% cut in LFASS funding coming the way of struggling livestock farms in 2019. The biggest single cut in any Scottish government funding stream in his recent budget proposal – Derek Mackay should be ashamed of himself.

Yes folks, when many in LFA Scotland earn less than the minimum wage, never mind the living wage much lauded by our First Minister and the economic uncertainty of Brexit looms, what is the Scottish Government’s response? Let’s kick these families a bit harder and take another £13m of vital support away from them. It’s an absolute scandal.

If welfare or benefit payments had been cut by £13m, let alone a massive 20%, there would have been a riot in Holyrood. But there hasn’t been a whisper, not a murmur of dissent and there needs to be right now as this budget proposal is scrutinised in Holyrood.

Of course, we are told, it’s all the EU’s fault. European rules insist it happens. Frankly, that’s bollocks and a lame, pathetic excuse for inaction that we have heard too often in the last 10 years.

'It’s always someone else’s fault' or more like, 'a big boy did it and ran away', seem to be the stock responses to any criticism or challenge to crap decisions like this one. And we are leaving the EU!

I ask you, who in their right mind would pile more misery on a sector that has had serious liquidity and cash flow problems for the last two, or three years from issues outwith its control? Weather losses, which have seen output fall and input costs soar, as well as a government IT system which can’t deliver a letter on time, never mind support payments, have all contributed to this awful situation.

I read in last week’s The SF and article by Fergus Ewing crowing about paying CAP payments – and I quote: “Earlier than ever before”.

What planet is he or his officials who wrote this rubbish on? I can provide bank statements for years up until the introduction of Richard Lochhead’s fabulous CAP payments system to prove that we received all our CAP Pillar 1 support in December and LFASS in February, or March each year.

So these claims are absolute nonsense and to brag about getting payments out to us by the end of June, when it is a regulatory or legal requirement to do so (or face a fine), is disingenuous in the extreme. All this at a time when livestock farmers have no idea if the lambs and calves still inside their mothers will be able to leave this island with or without penal tariffs in three months’ time in a post-Brexit world, whatever the hell that might look like.

NFUS are apparently trying to pull together some kind of document to lobby the EU for a further derogation to allow the full amount of LFASS to be paid during this unprecedented crisis – are they serious? We have had three years to sort this out and not wait to worry their members to death after Mackay’s appalling proposal.

Anyway, why is the Scottish Government not doing this, unless, of course, they don’t give a b....r? And why would anyone in the EU be remotely interested in any request from any part of the UK for anything right now, as we are leaving the EU one way or another?

This is a decision taken by the Scottish government, like the one to introduce a totally failed IT CAP payment system, which they have to face up to and either justify or change. No more blaming others.

Isn’t it ironic that it seems OK to spend an extra £150m on an IT system that doesn’t work and never will to protect the reputation of government ministers and senior civil servants, but it’s not OK to spend £13m to support thousands of farming families across Scotland to try and keep them afloat and not claiming benefits when they finally run out of cash or savings later in 2019?

And for those that survive the 20% cut in 2019, the SNP Government has just confirmed a massive 60% cut for 2020. It seems the SNP are intent on killing off any of the wounded families who have the tenacity or stupidity to think they can stagger on for another year. This is a national scandal that no one in rural Scotland should forget the next time they are asked to go to the ballot box.

Andrew McCornick, writing in last week’s issue, called for consensual politics with politicians working together to get 'sensible and collaborative resolution' to problems. If he can’t muster cross-party consensus in Scotland for this LFASS issue, where the facts speak for themselves and the need is obvious, then frankly he shouldn’t be in the job. Most of his NFUS members are currently trying to scratch a living in LFA Scotland and they deserve better. Instead of being apparently star-struck by all these politicians that he 'has been privileged to meet', he should get fired in about them and muster support for a cause worth fighting for. No – actually, a cause worth dying on a hillside for.

With the now almost weekly attacks on livestock production across the media from the rearing of animals for meat, never mind export of live animals; to meat production being bad for our health and the planet; to calls for a meat tax and a methane or ammonia tax, many producers are questioning the future of what they have done in their families for generations across Scotland’s hills and glens.

With the price of land for planting and the demand for forest products booming and set to grow over the next generation, we truly are at a crossroads for the sector.

The Highland Clearances may have been regarded as a dark time in Scotland’s history. Beware, this present danger will stretch much further than the Western Isles and Highlands of Scotland. And once the people and their animals have gone, they will never return.

Maybe then Derek Mackay et al will realise what they have contributed to and the public will realise what they have lost.