The combined persuasive power of an SNP government minister, two former NFU Scotland presidents and several members of the Farming for Yes steering group turned out for the final rural Yes rally ahead of the vote on Scottish independence next week.
But in stark contrast to the Yes campaign’s euphoria on the streets, only a handful of farmers turned up to the evening meeting near Glasgow on Tuesday, 9 September.
Most of them were already sporting Yes badges when they arrived, but as the political heavyweights extolled the benefits of separation, two of the farmers at the gathering heckled the line up of speakers.
See also: Rural no campaigners hold final rally
They said they feared farmers and meat traders would suffer cross-border trading issues and an urban-focused Scottish government that would become Labour dominated post independence.
“The SNP say they’ll look after farmers and pay our single farm payment until we get back into the EU, but would an urban-dominated Labour look after farmers? There are too many unknowns and not enough facts,” said one of the farmers, who wanted to remain anonymous.
Former NFUS presidents Jim Walker and John Cameron, along with Scottish environment minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP attempted to reassure the men. But after more than two hours of debate over Europe, currency and markets for Scottish produce, the two sceptics said they had heard nothing that had influenced them to vote Yes.
Campaigners were still lobbying the other farmer and meat processor Jimmy Stark while he had a cup of tea after the meeting, but he refused to be swayed. “There are too many uncertainties, too many unanswered questions. It’s fear of the unknown. I’m still undecided,” he said.
Alex Ross, a member of the Farming for Yes committee in Wigtownshire, questioned the panel over why the Yes campaign had failed to persuade farmers to vote for independence.
“Our arguments are rock solid, but one of our main problems in Wigtownshire has been getting farmers to come to meetings in the first place,” he said.
Jim Walker claimed the main problem was that farmers felt safe with the EU system they already knew.
“We’re used to the Brussels setup, even though we could have a better deal. It’s safe and farmers know the money will turn up,” he said. “My experience is that farmers believe that if a deal is too good to be true, it’s too good to be true,” Mr Walker said. “They think there’s a catch with independence and that it’ll cost them and their businesses money in a country that will aim for more social equality.
“The way I’ve countered that over the last umpteen months is to say there’s a finite budget and it’ll be up to the people of Scotland to decide how the money is spent and what the priorities are for our own people,” he said.
Rally chairman Jim Fairlie blamed the poor turnout at the meeting on a “good harvesting night” and the fact that most farmers had already made up their minds. He insisted however that Farming for Yes had conducted a successful campaign.
“We have not had the visibility of the No campaign with roadside banners and that has been a problem for us,” he said. “Farmers tell us they’re supporting us, but say they’re too scared to put up signs.”