It came as quite a surprise to me recently to discover that NFU Scotland is still banging on about the convergence uplift.
You may remember that a row erupted between the Scottish parliament and the Westminster government five years ago when the £190m windfall from Europe popped through Westminster’s letter box. The money was subsequently shared out among all four regions of the UK, rather than just Scotland.
So, why is NFU Scotland still demanding a review of these payments after all of this time?
To refresh our memories, the potted version of the convergence debacle is this:
The UK received a payment of £190m from the EU because Scotland receives a very low rate of farm support per hectare.
Unusually, there was cross-party support in Holyrood for Scotland to receive all the funds, to help bring its farm support payments into line with all the other countries within the EU and within the UK. That’s what the fund was supposed to achieve, and that’s what it would have done if Westminster had played with a straight bat.
It was like a “free go” for the Westminster government to bring the UK family of nations closer together in more ways than one. All they had to do was to hand the windfall on to the Scottish government and the deficiency that the fund was supposed to address would have been sorted.
Scotland’s dismal payments per hectare would have been brought into line with all the other parts of the UK and we would all have forgotten by this time what the convergence uplift was.
As we know, that didn’t happen and five years later NFUS is still at loggerheads with the UK government over it.
Defra secretary Michael Gove explained recently that someone else was to blame for what happened in 2013 and the money is gone. “Put it behind you and move on” is Mr Gove’s attitude. After all, moving on was something that his predecessors were all very good at and he will, no doubt, do the same very soon as well
I’m not sure if this is the way that NFUS sees the problem. But, as I see it, Scotland has effectively been placed at a disadvantage within the UK over the last five years.
In essence, the UK was given a sum of money that the EU intended to alleviate a particular challenge that existed only in Scotland. When the Westminster government shared those funds with the countries in the UK that were not faced with that same challenge, Scotland was placed at a disadvantage in relation to its neighbours.
It was a bit like having a large family in Scotland, but having to stand by helplessly while the UK government dished out their family allowance to their childless neighbours.
This was vote-catching music to the ears of the majority that live in the UK neighbourhood, who could spend their family allowance on Prosecco. But, not so good in Scotland where they had no option but to buy Pampers.
Now that new budgets for post-Brexit farming in the UK are being discussed, NFUS is quite right to want a review of what went wrong five years ago. It’s never too late to do the right thing.