Ahead of the Holyrood elections on 5 May, the four main political parties in Scotland have been outlining their proposals for food and farming.

The Scottish National Party (SNP), the Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have each published their election manifestos. Proposals for food and farming are featured heavily in all three manifestos.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said her party would publish its election manifesto next week.

See also: NFU unveils manifesto for fairer farming

The main issues affecting agriculture and the rural economy at this election are: a fair CAP agreement for Scotland, land reform, championing local food, help for tenant farmers and the rollout of fast broadband.

Farmers Weekly has picked out the key issues for food and farming highlighted in each of the manifestos which could swing the farming and countryside vote.

Nicola Sturgeon

SNP leader and Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon © Deadline News/REX/Shutterstock

SNP

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon will hope her party’s failure to deliver timely farm payments will not affect the SNP’s election hopes next month.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has faced calls to resign after overseeing the government’s disastrous £178m CAP IT system.

In its manifesto, the SNP maintains it is “committed to creating sustainable rural communities” where people can live, work and prosper.

Under its section headed “A Sustainable Scotland”, the SNP outlines the following policies:

  • Delivering superfast broadband to 100% of premises across Scotland, to bring the country’s most remote communities closer to the markets they need
  • Investing £25m in rural housing, supporting more people to live and work in rural communities
  • Fighting for a better deal for Scotland in the next CAP negotiations which start in 2017
  • As part of its Land Reform programme, the SNP said it would end anonymous ownership of large tracts of Scotland’s land by introducing a mandatory, public register of controlling interests in landowners and tenants
  • Delivering £1.3bn of funding via the Scottish Rural Development Programme to support rural economy, rural communities, address the impact of climate change and protect the natural environment.  

Ruth Davidson

Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson © Focus Images Ltd/REX/Shutterstock

Scottish Conservatives

The Scottish Conservatives’ manifesto farming theme is headed “Standing up for Scottish Farmers”.

In the next parliament, the Tories pledge to continue their demand for an immediate independent inquiry into the SNP’s “farm payments fiasco”.

The party has pledged to “fight for a good deal” for Scotland on continuing CAP reform – and hold other political parties to account in this area.

The Tories also want more land in Scotland farmed and farmed well, saying the advantages of home-grown produce “go far beyond just economic examples”.

To that end, they are calling for support for a “healthy and vibrant tenancy sector ready for the future”.

The Tories want policy decisions on agriculture to have “sound science at heart” – something it says was “suspended in the government’s decision on GM crops”.

They will also continue to reject an absolute right to buy, which it says “prevents new land being made available for tenancies”.

They also want to change 1991 tenancy assignation provisions to a conversion model which would allow secure tenants convert into at least 25-year limited duration tenancies and then assign for value.

In addition, the Tories believe the planning system should introduce exemptions to allow retiring farmers or new entrants to build a home on agricultural land.

Willie Rennie

Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie © Deadline News/REX/Shutterstock

Liberal Democrats

The 36-page manifesto from the Liberal Democrats features a section on the party’s proposals to enhance the rural economy.

These bullet points are highlighted under the party’s pledges for food and farming:

  • Complete coverage of superfast broadband and mobile phone across Scotland, using additional support from a Fit For The Future Investment Fund to be created by the party if it wins office
  • Guarantee to increase resources deployed in advance of the future rounds of CAP payments to make sure farmers get their money in a timely way
  • Establish an immediate restitution scheme to compensate farmers who incurred excessive banking costs because of the delay in their CAP payment
  • Continue to reform procurement rules to encourage purchase of local food and help smaller producers and farmers access large public sector markets
  • Press for increased powers for the Grocery Code Adjudicator to allow investigation of unfair practices
  • Campaign for the principle of a universal service obligation to be extended to energy prices, broadband, postal charges and telecoms to prevent the price discrimination against remote communities
  • Implement the Land Reform Act and establish a review by the end of the parliamentary term to consider further reform.

Kezia Dugdale

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale © Andrew MacColl/REX/Shutterstock

Scottish Labour

Scottish Labour will publish its manifesto for next month’s Holyrood election next week.

Labour will unveil rural policies to extend £100m to extend of fast broadband, new legislation to protect agricultural workers’ rights and protect the Scottish food and farming industry.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale also wants to introduce a new Food and Farming Bill to enshrine the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board to protect farmworkers’ pay, conditions and holiday rights.

Ms Dugdale wants to set up a statutory Scottish Food Commission to champion the importance of the sector to the rural economy.

She will also announce proposals to devolve more powers to local communities to give them more control over planning.