Scots No to street demos

17 October 1997

Scots No to street demos

CALLS to take to the streets in search of public support for greater funds for hill farmers were rejected by the Scottish NFU hill farming committee this week.

Instead, the union will lobby individual MPs, and SNFU president Sandy Mole will tomorrow (Sat), with hill farming convenor John Scott, lead a farmer meeting in Oban to hold talks with Lib Dem farm spokesman Charles Kennedy and MPRay Michie.

On Monday, the union will meet breed societies to gather more evidence of the crisis in the hills and then spend the afternoon presenting the case to Scottish Office officials. It is accepted as an academic exercise with the government having already announced a freeze on HLCAs.

Dumfriesshire member Jim Walker, who made the call for greater action, said he was disappointed with the result: "Maybe we didnt achieve any increase in the recent past but we did feel that we had given it our best shot. Now we have been denied that opportunity in a year when we had the strongest possible case for an increase," he said.

"I still think there is merit in taking our case to the wider public and I cannot help but be critical of a union leadership which talks about building bridges with a government which has shown very clearly that it has no sympathy for hill farmers."

Mr Walker had gone to the meeting with the full support of his own NFU area committee, which met last Wednesday, to press for a public display of anger at the governments treatment of hill farming.

The picture the Scottish Office officials will have painted for them on Monday is of a hill farming industry hit by a drop in sheep annual premium from £21.26 two years ago to £11.51 this year, the freeze on HLCAs and the removal of the extra £50 a suckler cow granted last year as part of BSE compensation, and, in the past fortnight, a disastrous drop in prices for store Blackface lambs with levels below £10 a head in some cases.

Winter ferry schedules meant that it took three days for Bert Leitch to attend the emergency hill committee meeting on Monday and return to his farm on the Isle of Mull. He is facing a drop in income of about £16,000 this year, particularly due to the halving of SAP over the last two years.

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