Scottish farm minister tipped to be replaced

Scottish farmers are anticipating a shake-up at senior government level, with rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead only just holding on to his constituency seat in this week’s government elections.

Mr Lochhead saw his majority in Moray fall from 11,000 in 2011 to less than 2,900, thanks to an 18% swing to the Scottish Conservatives.

The Moray constituency, in the north of Scotland, between Inverness and Aberdeen, has a vibrant agriculture sector. The local farming community has been particularly hard hit by the ongoing BPS fiasco, which has left many farmers still waiting for their 2015 payments.

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Pundits suggest the poor election performance was the direct result of a voter backlash against these payment delays and the poor state of the farming economy, and expect that Mr Lochhead will be moved on from the farming brief.

If so, the new Scottish government faces another problem as Aileen MacLeod, previously environment and land reform secretary, failed to get re-elected.

Nationally, the Scottish parliament elections saw the Tories performing much better than expected and beating Labour into second position to form the parliamentary opposition – easily their best showing since the formation of the parliament in 1999. Many of their successes were in rural areas.

NFU Scotland said it “would be very keen to meet with the new minister as soon as possible once they are in position”.

The union has already demanded that the application window for this year’s basic farm payment be extended another month from 16 May.

“We had hoped that the deeply flawed £180m IT system installed to deliver new CAP schemes would have improved to the extent that an extension to the application window would not have been necessary,” said NFUS president Alan Bowie.

“While the majority report that the application process is improved, many members have yet to receive the up-to-date maps for their farms from the Scottish government needed to make their 2016 claim and time must be allowed for that to happen.”

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