BEING A NFU Scotland president can be a pretty thankless task ... been there, done that.

It becomes a helluva lot more difficult when you are given, or listen to, bad advice and make bad decisions on the back of it. That’s exactly what appears to be happening inside NFUS right now.

The inadequate and shambolic response to the ongoing problems in the beef sector provides ample evidence of this. Countless meetings and press releases, all totally pointless. Endless rhetoric, but no plan, no action.

Then, two weeks ago, the astonishing proposals for the ‘divvy up’ of convergence funding put the tin lid on it. To make matters worse, having caused the controversy with ill-thought out convergence spending proposals, their hapless attempts to defend themselves have pissed off everyone.

I spent seven months, with excellent support from Scottish Government officials and independent economists, on the Bew Review Group, fighting for this funding. I had one meeting with NFUS in January to brief me on their position.

The policy director made it clear at that meeting that although the union’s public position on the £160m historic convergence funding ‘injustice’ hadn’t changed, after all these years he didn’t expect the Treasury would pay.

Thankfully, that was not my view. Their written submission to the Bew Group was fine and what I would have expected, the oral submission less so. Firstly, not a single member of the top team appeared to give evidence – no president, vice-president or chief executive, only the policy director. That was staggering, even from a symbolic point of view.

If this truly was the biggest lobbying exercise in NFUS history, where were the ‘big guns’? I joined this presentation by conference call thinking it would be routine and was baffled by the tone of the evidence.

Three times the policy director was given the chance to state NFUS support for the historic £160m. Three times the answer was the same – “Of course we would welcome it, but let’s be pragmatic, Jim, the Treasury will never pay.”

To say I was gobsmacked is an understatement. I was so angry I left the conference call shortly afterwards and messaged the NFUS president and the chief executive. I have kept these messages for my memoirs!

The president ‘noted’ my concerns, but to CE Scott Walker’s credit he arranged for both a revised press statement and a letter to Lord Bew to clarify NFUS’ position of support for the ongoing campaign for the payment of the historic funding.

Scottish Government officials were equally baffled. Nearly six years of fighting potentially torpedoed in half-an-hour.

Now the money is secure, the line NFUS is taking is naïve and illogical. How successful would I have been if I had argued that every sector in Scotland needed more cash because it was too wet, too dry, or a market was oversupplied, even if it was through no fault of our own? Answer, nowhere, precisely nowhere.

Arguing it was an ‘injustice’ and ‘unfair’ that convergence funding hadn’t been paid to Scotland cut no ice for six years. So why the hell does fairness and ‘all being in this together’ have any relevance to the use of the funding now?

The NFUS proposal is more about their subscription income and dwindling membership than anything to do with the purpose of convergence funding. Many progressive and young farmers in Scotland see it as an outdated organisation with little relevance to their futures. To be blunt, this announcement merely underlined that sad fact.

As an example, when barley was £180 per tonne and straw £140 per tonne last year because of lack of supply, livestock farmers had to suck it up because that’s life. I didn’t notice arable farmers offering to subsidise livestock farmers and why would they – good luck to them.

This year, with barley at £100/tonne and straw at £80/tonne because of big yields, why on earth does that have any relevance to convergence funding designed to bring lower payments per hectare up to the average payments per hectare across the EU? The answer, of course, is that it has absolutely nothing to do with it whatsoever and NFUS damned well knows it.

So, instead of all this emotional claptrap about a ‘union’ and ‘bringing people together’ for the benefit of ‘Farming Scotland PLC’, why doesn’t the union actually start giving its’ members the facts? NFUS has never run a PLC in its life and certainly doesn’t run or represent Farming Scotland PLC, whatever that is. They do, however, represent several thousand farmers, all of whom deserve better.

In my time on the Bew Group, I argued consistently on the basis of fact. This money should be allocated to Scotland because an EU formula agreed by all Member States stated that funding should be increased to hectares receiving less that the EU average. Nothing to do with the price of milk, or barley, or fairness.

In all the discussions with other panel members, government ministers, the future Prime Minister and many, many more, my message was consistent and clear. This money is about farming in the hills and uplands of Scotland, and that’s where the funding should have gone in 2013 and that’s where it should go now.

This is the only – and I stress the only – type of farming the UK government has any real interest in supporting in the medium term. Michael Gove was quite clear about that in one-to-one discussions I had with him on this issue.

The Bew Report is littered with references to the value of upland farming. For example and I quote: “We advocate … a recognition both of the social value of upland farming in particular and the challenges facing those practicing it ... whilst also recognising the social value of farming and sustainable food production in upland areas.”

Maybe the NFUS should actually read the Bew Report to better understand the arguments used and the case that was accepted by the UK Government for this massive funding boost for Scotland. It’s a hundred pages which time and again underlines support for hill and upland farming.

The report also makes recommendations about continued support for agriculture across all sectors, particularly at this uncertain time. But that has nothing – and I repeat nothing – to do with convergence funding.

There is an overwhelming case and precedent from Ireland to support the beef sector in the UK right now and that’s referred to in the Bew Report. This is a stand-alone undisputed case where a market is being exploited and undermined by businesses based in another Member State, namely Ireland.

They have a dominant position in the UK supply chain and this has been compounded by an oversupply of beef back in Ireland leading to unsustainable prices for UK finished cattle. But neither was convergence funding ever destined or designed to compensate producers in this type of scenario, albeit any support for the beef sector right now would be more than welcome and long overdue!

So come on, NFUS, stick to the facts – trying to please everybody never works.

When Fergus Ewing asked me to fight Scotland’s corner for this funding, he made it clear that any funds I managed to secure would go to the engine room of Scottish agriculture, namely the hills and uplands. More specifically, to active farmers producing cattle and sheep in these areas.

If he had suggested anything else, I would never have taken up the challenge, especially with the odds stacked so heavily against a successful outcome. To now do something different is indefensible and reflects badly on those who spout this nonsense.

Fergus has been handed a gift, not as some would suggest a poisoned chalice, and Scotland will benefit from it, despite the bullshit that is currently being thrown around by people who should really know better.