So, First Minister Humza Yousaf duly turned up at the NFUS AGM and announced …. well, not very much really. The promise of 70% of future agriculture support payments post-2027 being targeted on Tier 1 and Tier 2 payments had already been announced in a written Parliamentary answer by Mairi Gougeon.

The FM also ‘promised’ that LFASS would be funded in some way as a Tier 2 payment. But a bit like his council tax announcement at his party conference last year, this appeared from left field and seemed to take everyone by surprise.

It was suggested that this would take Tier 1 and 2 payments combined up to 80% post-2027 with the inclusion of the successor scheme to LFASS. For reference, the equivalent level of funding for these schemes right now is about 86%. But like most announcements from this SNP/Green administration being totally shrouded in mystery, it’s really difficult to comment on, let alone welcome something, which is so vague.

One thing is for sure: as of now, no-one has any idea what a successor scheme to LFASS might look like, including Mairi Gougeon’s policy officials, whatever the FM might have said. Similarly, the headline-grabbing announcement of this 70% figure – albeit welcome on the face of it – is fraught with danger. With no detail of what hoops claimants will have to jump through to access this support, then it really doesn’t help any business, large or small, plan anything in its current form.

The BBC coverage of the announcement was appalling, painting it as some great victory for the powerful farming lobby. I wish!

I listened carefully to Mairi Gougeon’s BBC interview about this very point. She was questioned as usual about why farming was being favoured instead of environmental priorities. Her answer was very insightful. She stated that of course if this proposed scheme wasn’t working, then the government in the future would have the power to change it. And therein lies the catch.

In actual fact, the recent publication of the scrutiny of her Agriculture (Scotland) Bill by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee has laid bare the worst fears of farmers and crofters the length and breadth of Scotland. It is utterly remarkable that after years of endless, mostly worthless, consultations we are still not a step further forward on the policy detail required to allow agri businesses to make informed decisions about the future.

This is especially evident in the livestock sector. For example, Hugh Fraser, the NFUS livestock chairman, recently rightly pointed out exactly this as he pled for clarity for the beef sector from the First Minister, which of course wasn’t forthcoming. Producing world-class Scotch Beef is a long-term, long lead time business and this policy hiatus has left many producers questioning if they even have a future. The result has been a 12% reduction in beef cow numbers since 2019. The SNP/Green cabal claim this will help save the planet from climate change, but this is rubbish.

Despite their aversion to the production and consumption of red meat, demand remains strong, so as our herd shrinks imports will fill the gap, meaning no emissions benefits to the planet whatsoever. Meanwhile, the Scottish economy suffers, and with the replacement of cattle and sheep on Scotland’s hills and uplands by trees or rewilding (whatever that means), no wonder commentators are starting to describe this as the second ‘Highland Clearances’.

And the claim by the FM that he is a supporter of the Scottish food industry is as hollow as most of the promises that spin from this administration. If proof were needed, the Food Processing, Marketing and Co-operation (FPMC) grant scheme has now been cancelled for the second year in a row, probably spelling its permanent closure – and where is the missing £45m from the agri budget?

Meanwhile, back in Parliament, the committee scrutinising the Agri Bill, clearly concerned with being effectively hoodwinked, has stated that it ‘has difficulty in understanding why the first Rural Support Plan [effectively the detail behind the Bill] is not at a more advanced stage and is concerned that there is not a clearer direction of travel from the Scottish Government for Parliament and stakeholders to scrutinise …. as the plan will not be available until 2025’.

And even more suspicious, dangerous, not to mention undemocratic, the committee further notes ‘changing the purposes for which support can be given could have significant policy implications for farming in Scotland … the wide scope and range of ministerial powers in the Bill give rise to concerns. By legislating using a framework Bill, the Scottish Government reduces the ability of this committee and Parliament as a whole to properly scrutinise legislation’ (take note of Gougeon’s reply to the BBC).

In response, Mairi Gougeon and her policy officials offer an extraordinary excuse to this serious concern as to why they are going down this road which is straight from the Sturgeon/Yousaf playbook: “For capacity reasons we do not expect to be able to produce either drafts or outlines of future regulations … we do intend to produce a first draft of the rural support plan in 2025.”

So despite this being the biggest change to agriculture support – likely to have the biggest impact on the very fabric of rural Scotland in a generation and the only meaningful policy priority for agriculture since Brexit – they don’t have time or are too busy (with what, who knows?) to offer any details or guidance to an industry which needs long lead times for decision-making.

Furthermore, this SNP/Green clique is trying to avoid democratic scrutiny of their dubious intentions for food production by riding roughshod through the authority and power of Parliament. Primary producers and food processors alike should be rightly furious and fearful in equal measure for the total disregard that the FM and his hapless Cabinet Secretary are showing for agriculture and rural Scotland.

Through this Bill, they are demanding the power to do what they want, when they want, with whatever policy whims they dream up, without a thought for the consequences either for individual businesses or the country. This has the potential to literally change the landscape of Scotland irreversibly, as once sheep and cattle leave the hills they will never return, or if arable land is planted it’s gone forever.

It apparently now falls to the recently appointed Jim Fairlie to navigate this Bill through Parliament. His first priority should be to ensure that his officials produce the draft Rural Support Plan ahead of the Stage 3 scrutiny of the Agri Bill. Parliament must have the power to scrutinise this before giving future governments carte blanche to do as they please without democratic accountability or scrutiny. And further, he should commit to his officials providing Parliament with annual updates on the progress of the plan to ensure ongoing scrutiny and accountability.

Jim absolutely understands farming and the importance of food production to Scotland’s economy. He is also well aware of the dangers of this current unelected SNP/Green cabal even though he will never be allowed to admit it now. Having known him for 30 years, I believe he has the best interests of rural Scotland at heart. That being the case, he can prove his credentials as the champion of the food and farming industry by committing to making these changes to the Agri Bill now.

That way he can start to rebuild some trust in the government he has just joined, which has totally lost the support of the majority of rural Scotland. After Nicola Sturgeon opened her arms to the Greens and Humza Yousaf has decided to continue to embrace them, it is crystal clear that despite the words, farming and food production actually don’t matter to them.

Although I wish him luck, funnily enough I won’t be holding my breath.