26 February 1999

Year of the Lyon takes union back on course

BY the end of next week, the Scottish NFU will have a new leader by the end of next week, following elections at the annual meeting in Dunblane. George Lyon is standing down after just a year as president, hoping to pursue a new career as a member of the Scottish Parliament.

There are a few who still say he should not have taken the union job for such a short tenure. But most agree that Mr Lyon has saved the organisation from extinction and restored its credibility in the eyes of the government, other industry organisations, and the membership.

He insists the success is down to team work but accepts that things were at an all-time low when chief executive Tom Brady and then president Sandy Mole resigned at the end of 1997.

"They had completely lost touch with the members, there was unbelievable arrogance as if union headquarters knew better than any other organisation and certainly better than its members. Thankfully, that is now behind us. We have a team effort within the union and within the Scottish farming industry," Mr Lyon says.

At the beginning of his presidency, seven priorities were set: restructure the union and make it relevant to members; secure a lifting of the beef export ban; win the right to agrimonetary compensation post-k; progress towards a satisfactory outcome of Agenda 2000 reform of the common agricultural policy; prepare for the Scottish Parliament; simplify farm tenancy arrangements; and co-operate with other bodies to give an industry speaking with one voice.

"I think we can claim success on all those fronts. But probably the biggest victory of all was winning the November £120m aid package, of which £36m came to Scotland. That went right down to the wire and it was only the intervention of the Secretaries for Scotland and Northern Ireland that persuaded the government that the package and the size of it were essential."

Victory it may have been but it illustrated the fickle nature of farmers when, rather than receiving a standing ovation at the unions November council meeting, the leaders were vilified by the arable brigade for failing to win it a share of the handout.

"It was a disappointing reception but I suppose that sort of thing comes with the territory. I still blame the Oliver Walston factor for the governments refusal to give agrimonetary compensation to the arable sector."

Unfinished business? "Apart from winning an acceptable outcome and implementation of Agenda 2000 reforms, there is still much to do on restructuring the union. There is a long way to go. I would like to think that, in five years time, half the unions income will come from a range of services rather than being totally dependent on subscriptions," Mr Lyon says.