As I write this column, I am sitting in a hotel room in the beautiful Highlands of Scotland enjoying a short break travelling around this wonderful country.

Of course, in a few days' time, the eyes of the world will be on Scotland as Glasgow hosts leaders and other dignitaries from across the globe to COP26, the climate change conference. All will have their own their own views on how the issue of climate change can be approached and what measures they may need to introduce to try to reduce environmental impact.

I know for a fact that during the conference they will be dining on both Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb. How? Because it is an AIMS member who will be supplying the meat to the conference.

I recently attended the quarterly meat industry reputation group meeting which consists of the four levy boards and other interested parties. The main presentation was from Quality Meat Scotland and covered the important topics about having informed conversations about livestock and the environment. It was excellent.

But it would be wrong of me to dwell too much on an event before it has happened and to presuppose the outcomes. We have bigger challenges which we, as a farming and food processing industry, can influence.

In late September, Angus Robertson MSP wrote to Priti Patel MP asking her to make ‘urgent changes to the Immigration Rules’ and to provide ‘the opportunity for workers to switch onto other visa routes once they are in the country and have obtained employment.’

Mr Robertson proceeded to highlight key roles where Scotland desperately needs access to overseas workers. This included butchers.

The AIMS member supplying COP26 is reporting a 10% increase in pre-Covid sales levels and yet is coping with reduced staff levels. They recently employed a skilled butcher and two apprentices. All started on a Monday morning and by Thursday all had left!

With immigration not a devolved matter, my belief is that the First Minister – along with her co-operative agreement Green Party MSPs – must make the case for Scotland to have independent access to the workers that is needed to enable the economy recover, grow and thrive.

As we all know, extensive ruminant agriculture provides huge environmental benefits to Scotland through the conversion of natural assets into high quality protein, which has a value both domestically and in overseas markets. But that value can’t be fully met without the skilled butchers needed to take the livestock to meat and meat products.

The current rules from Westminster show an element of confused thinking, which is of no benefit to Scottish agriculture.

For example, the Skilled Worker Visa included the role of a fish processor but, according to a Home Office Minister, not that of a meat processor, as it isn’t considered to meet the right skill level!

Which brings me to the Skilled Worker Visa. It is of note that 'butchers,' 'fish' and 'chicken' processors are all included as jobs for which overseas workers can apply for, providing they meet the 70-point immigration requirement.

There are 20 points available for each of the following: Having a job to go to; having a job ‘sponsor’; and the job paying a minimum of £25,600 – and then the applicant must be able to read, write, speak, and listen (understand) English to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFL) Scale Level B1. Providing they can do this, they’ll get the 10 points needed to get them to the 70 required.

The CEFL Level B1 is the same requirement for a doctor, a chemical engineer, a teacher and, yes, a butcher!

Given that the meat and poultry processing industry currently has around 14,000 unfilled vacancies and that despite the best efforts of employers to engage the UK domestic labour force in these roles, they remain unfilled.

Our suggestion to the Home Office and one which is backed by our members, is that they permit overseas butchers to come to the UK with 60 points on a 12-month contract, during which time the employers will invest in English language training to take them to CEFL Level B1 and, should they not attain that standard, not renew the employee's visa.

I recently looked at the requirements of the CEFL B1 Exam and specifically the listening task. Applicants must listen to a short two-minute piece of text as it is read (they can take notes). The text is repeated and then there are six questions.

Now, call me picky, but I’d have thought that this exercise would be about British life, living in the UK and maybe some essential information such as about the NHS, or dialling 999. How wrong I was.

I clicked the play button and was subjected a two-minute description of a cheese rolling competition. Other subjects included basketball, emus, Burlington Arcade, crane flies, Charles Dickens, and that ‘well known’ Brit, Henri Matisse!

Without wishing to be too presumptive about our friends in Poland, Romania, Lithuania etc, but I think they’d wonder what on earth they were listening to and maybe whether they were hearing correctly what they were being asked about in order to get 10 points for a skills-based visa.

As a native of these shores, I don’t believe I have ever in either my professional life nor my private life had a conversation with anyone about emus and I would certainly fall off my chair were I visiting a GP who had an understanding of basketball, but not necessarily the best command of medicine.

We need an English language assessment that is job and community specific, no more. If a successful applicant then wishes to study Henri Matisse, or crane flies etc, then that should be their choice.

Mr Robertson’s letter to the Home Secretary supported the view that workers come on a temporary visa and once they reach the required standards, be allowed to ‘switch onto other visa routes.’ This is a wholly sensible approach and one which allows for Scotland’s Government to make the decisions it needs to help deliver economic prosperity and one which I support.

Time for common sense to apply ...