Scotland’s farmers must speak out against independence or risk a barrier being put up between their produce and key markets, Labour MP Alistair Darling has warned.
Failing to vote to remain part of the UK in the referendum on Scottish independence would see farmers lose open access to a home market of more than 60 million consumers as well as their influence in Europe.
Speaking at the launch of Rural Better Together, a “no” campaign aimed specifically at the food and farming sector, the former chancellor of the exchequer said farmers’ influence in the independence debate was vital.
“The food and drink industry in Scotland is as big as the banking sector. Your voice matters,” he said.
“Scotland’s farmers have a ready-made market south of the border where much of their produce goes and you don’t need to worry about where your produce goes as there’s no barrier. But if the UK becomes a foreign country barriers would start to emerge.
“Like many Scottish industries, Scottish agriculture depends on having a bigger market of 63 million people in the rest of the UK. To put something between you and your consumers is madness.”
Separating from the UK meant that Scotland’s position on agricultural issues could also be dismissed in Europe, Mr Darling added.
“It’s the big countries that call the shots in Europe,” he said. “The small countries are out-voted and won’t get anywhere.
“At the moment we have the clout of the UK, while recognising that the agricultural is different in the two countries. If you are on your own you won’t have that.”
Leading Rural Better Together with former NFU Scotland vice-president Peter Chapman and Aberdeenshire farmer Maitland Mackie, Lib Dem MEP George Lyon said it was essential the voice of farmers was heard during the referendum debate.
“Rural Better Together has to be farmer-led and a strong voice for those who share the view that the needs of our food and farming sector are best served by a strong Scotland remaining part of a strong United Kingdom,” he said.
“Producers should not be afraid of speaking out against independence if they don’t agree with it.”