The battle for farmers’ votes in the Scottish independence referendum has been ratcheted up a notch with the Better Together campaign’s parade of 15 of NFU Scotland’s elder statesmen.
Six former NFUS presidents, including George Lyon, Sandy Mole, Sir Ian Grant and others dating back to the 1970s, together with nine former vice-presidents, the most recent of whom are Peter Chapman, David Mitchell, Peter Stuart and John Picken, have pledged their support to the No campaign.
At a press conference in Stirling, the Better Together team outlined the benefits of saying “No, thanks” in the referendum on 18 September and claimed they had the majority support of Scottish farmers and food processors.
Sir Ian conceded that past leaders of NFUS had never previously become involved in political debate, but following last week’s show of support for independence by four former NFUS presidents, he insisted it was important to the No side to speak out.
“All of us here are united in our view that the referendum on the future of our country is important enough for us all that we should contribute to the deliberations and make our views known,” he said.
“On a range of issues such as currency, which is vital to the farming sector, tax and fiscal policy, or securing continued and increasing Common Agriculture Policy [CAP] support, there is no doubt that future economic prospects for farm and food businesses will be better off remaining within the UK.”
He said farmers had enough uncertainty with markets and weather, without having a currency uncertainty as well.
“The question of the currency we would use is central to the economic case for independence, and yet we still have no idea what currency we would be trading in if, as looks very likely, taxpayers in the rest of the UK say ‘no thanks’ to a formal currency union.
“Currency is of key importance to farm businesses, as the prices they receive and the CAP support they enjoy are determined by the exchange rate and therefore the failure to spell out an alternative leaves them completely in the dark.”
Former Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) chairman Donald Biggar also pledged his support and focused on Scotland’s livestock industry, which he said was heavily dependent on the wider UK market. Some 65-70% of beef produced in Scotland is marketed in England and Wales, 50% of lambs produced in Scotland are sold and processed in England and Wales and 60% of Scottish pork is processed in England.
He said: “If Scotland votes to leave the UK, we lose the advantages of a large and stable home market, free from fluctuating exchange rates, the cost of regulation and the extra administration involved in exporting. I’d urge everyone in the industry to vote no and retain the advantages of being a member of the UK.”
Berwickshire farmer Jim Stobo, NFUS president in 1973-74, said he lived in Scotland with an English postal address and was “right on the edge”.
“I buy and sell to farmers on both sides of the border and am dependent on the free movement of goods between the two,” he added. “The enormous risk is that it would take a very small fiscal variation between the conditions in Scotland and those pertaining in England for my sort of business to be knocked out.”
Meanwhile, the Yes campaign has distributed a letter for publication, signed by 50 Scottish farmers, which argues that Westminster has failed Scottish agriculture time and again.
The letter states: “Agriculture and the internationally acclaimed food and drink industry are key strengths of the Scottish economy. As such, they deserve maximum support and promotion at governmental level.
“The question for Scotland’s 65,000 farmers, crofters and growers – as well as the 250,000 others who depend on agriculture for their livelihood – is, who is most likely to provide that support and incentive? Is it a remote, out-of-touch and increasingly indifferent Westminster, or a Scottish parliament in Edinburgh that has, since its re-establishment in 1999, shown far more interest in and devoted more priority to the farming and food sectors?
“We are in no doubt that the safety, security and future well-being of the farming industry is better served under an independent Scotland.”
The letter is signed by farming families from Moray to Stranraer, including 11 signatories from the island of Islay.
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