Opinion: Farmers shouldn’t let irrational fears sway EU referendum vote

Migrants arriving in Greece by boat

© Bartek Langer/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

Fasten your seat belts everyone and get ready for the ride of your life.

Once we begin to pick up a bit of speed you might begin to enjoy the excitement, but that won’t last long. People will start to scream and shout and wave their arms in the air.

This will add to the excitement initially, but after a while it will begin to bother you. You’ll just wish that the roller coaster would stop and the screaming and the shouting would go away.

Trust me on this one. Farmers in Scotland have recent experience of the referendum roller coaster. While the prospect of a referendum on the EU may be fresh and exciting for the majority of farmers in the UK, I imagine many in Scotland are still feeling a bit queasy after their last go.

Neale McQuistinNeale McQuistin is an upland beef and sheep farmer in south-west Scotland. He farms 365ha in partnership with his wife, Janet, much of which is under stewardship for wildlife.

The answer to the question on the ballot paper is going to create problems for Scotland’s farmers as well. We will all go into the polling booths ready to put a cross inside a box next to the words “Yes” or “No”.

But yes or no will not be an option. Poor reading skills – brought on by years of filling in IACS forms – and preconceived ideas drilled into us as a result of the Scottish referendum are set to create chaos at the polling stations.

See also: Farmer blockades – why you can count me out

The question is likely to be: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union? The first time I read the question, I said “Yes” to myself (preconceived idea).

Being a typical farmer I didn’t read the whole question carefully. I read the first part, skipped the rest of the sentence, and looked for a box to tick that said “Yes”.

The two answers to choose between will be: Remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union. It will still be very tempting to write “Yes” or “No” in the box beside the first answer or to write “Yes” or “No” in the box beside the second answer. Ballot papers will be spoiled.

However, I have more serious concerns than a few spoiled ballot papers. I don’t think food and farming will be foremost in the minds of the vast majority of the general public that will be taking part in the vote.

We all know that the public have a poor connection between the food they eat and where it comes from. We slave tirelessly at trying to improve that connection.

The majority of voters in the run-up to the unknown date of the referendum will probably make their minds up as they sit and eat at their tables in the evening.

But, the television that is very often on in the room where people eat will be taking up their attention. Poor souls packed into tiny boats in the Mediterranean and masses of people at the mouth of the Channel Tunnel dominated the news headlines in 2015.

Riots in Germany over immigration have now started to be beamed into UK voters’ homes in 2016.

I fear the worst. I think we are on our way out of Europe and it won’t be for any reason that is based on a rational thought process to do with sovereignty over our own affairs or doing business.

Irrational fears over immigration will tip the balance the wrong way in my opinion.

Being descended from immigrants that sailed in tiny boats from the north coast of Ireland a few hundred years ago, I sincerely hope that on this occasion I will be proved wrong.