New rural affairs secretary appointed in Scotland

Fergus Ewing, member of the Scottish parliament for Inverness and Nairn, is the new cabinet secretary for rural affairs and connectivity in Scotland, following the post-election reshuffle.

Mr Ewing replaces Richard Lochhead who stood down from the role this week following nine years in charge of the agricultural brief.

Announcing the reshuffle, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said the emphasis of her new government was on the economy.

See also: Lochhead to stand down as Scottish rural affairs secretary

“We will ensure that the importance of the rural economy is fully reflected in the Scottish government, recognising the key challenges faced by the rural economy and the vital importance of transport and broadband links,” she said.

Mr Ewing, who was born in Glasgow and is a qualified solicitor, was previously minister for business, energy and tourism.

Ms Sturgeon also announced the appointment of Roseanna Cunningham in the new role of cabinet secretary for the environment and climate change. Previously, environment was part of the rural affairs brief.

“As well as driving forward work to allow Scotland to meet its ambitious climate change targets, Roseanna will have responsibility for implementation of our radical land reform agenda,” said Ms Sturgeon.   

Priorities

One of Mr Ewing’s first priorities will be to get to grips with the Basic Payment Scheme delivery system, which so blighted the final few months of Mr Lochhead’s tenure as rural affairs secretary.

The fact so many farmers have still not received their full 2015 payment, while large sums of national money were required to provide at least a part payment, is widely accepted to have undermined the ruling Scottish National Party’s standing in many rural areas in the recent elections.

“There is much unfinished business to be done in delivering outstanding support payments to all farmers before the payment window closes in June,” said NFU Scotland president Allan Bowie.

He added that the new appointments came at a “hugely challenging time” for Scottish farmers, following three consecutive years of falling incomes. In particular, NFU Scotland wanted Mr Ewing to address red tape, stop gold-plating EU laws and take action to deliver a fairer food chain.

Mr Bowie also thanked Mr Lochhead, saying he had been considered a “safe pair of hands” and a “polished performer” – until the recent controversy over the delivery of BPS money.

Mr Lochhead, MSP for Moray who saw his majority in the recent Scottish elections slump from 11,000 to less than 3,000, explained in a letter to Ms Sturgeon earlier this week that he was standing down, to spend more time with his wife, who is suffering from breast cancer.

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