Agriculture will be the first budget to be decimated by the UK government if the country votes to leave Europe in the EU referendum, according to Scotland’s rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead.
Mr Lochhead fired the first political salvo of the 2015 Royal Highland Show with a warning that if Scotland voted to remain in Europe and the rest of the UK voted to leave, it would be a potential trigger to “revisit the constitutional position”.
“The official policy of the UK Treasury is to phase out support for UK agriculture and it’s only because the UK is outvoted by other member states that support continues,” he told leading industry figures at a Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) breakfast.
“Quite clearly if we’re not a member of Europe, the shield we have at the moment will be removed and we’ll be at the mercy of a UK Treasury that wants to phase out payments as quickly as possible.
“Europe has its faults but being in Europe is good for Scotland so that’s why I think we must send a clear message that Scotland wants to remain in Europe and the democratic will of the people of Scotland must be respected whatever the outcome elsewhere across these islands.”
Mr Lochhead announced that in the wake of last year’s independence referendum progress has been made on the industry’s 10-year battle for red meat levies that are collected in Scotland to be repatriated and used by QMS for promotion of Scottish produce.
A government consultation is expected later this year in to allow a change in legislation that would enable the £1.5m raised from levies to be spent in Scotland rather than shared nationally.
Mr Lochhead also argued that it was time for the UK government to start listening to Scotland’s demands for a fairer deal from the CAP convergence uplift, which was shared across the UK rather than being targeted at Scottish farmers as intended by Europe.
“It’s a scandal that it wasn’t delivered to Scotland in the first place so I do hope the UK government is listening to Scotland,” he said.
“I am urging Defra secretary Liz Truss, who’s visiting the show this week, to deliver the review of the budget allocation that was promised by her predecessor. And it’s time for that to move forward quickly.”