By Martin Kelly
Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael has been accused of turning his back on Scottish farmers after expressing his support for a Westminster Government decision not to pass on EU funding payments.
The Lib Dem MP, who is tasked with fighting Scotland’s corner in UK cabinet meetings, has caused anger after rejecting calls for the payments to be paid in full to farmers north of the border.
The money, called the convergence uplift, amounts to almost a quarter of a billion euros over the next seven years and accrues solely due the poor Common Agriculture Budget allocation awarded to Scotland’s farmers. Two weeks ago the Coalition Government announced its intention to split the money between farmers across the whole of the UK.
The decision caused fury amongst Scotland’s rural community and resulted in NFU Scotland demanding a meeting with the Scottish secretary.
However, in a letter to Scottish MPs, Mr Carmichael today dismissed claims that the decision was unfair and instead insisted that the amount of money passed on to Scottish farmers was part of a “fair and positive package”.
The letter, which was sent out in advance of tomorrow’s debate on the CAP convergence uplift, has angered the SNP Agriculture spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP who secured the debate.
Responding to the Scottish Secretary’s letter, Dr Whiteford said:
“This letter shows that just a few weeks into his job Mr Carmichael has become Westminster’s man in Scotland rather than representing Scotland’s interests.”
Ms Whiteford said the Scottish Secretary’s description of the deal as a “fair and positive package” simply beggared belief and compared it to similar comments from the Lib Dem MP’s coalition colleague.
She added: “He is only echoing what his Tory counterpart at DEFRA told me last week when he said in answer to a question from me that Scotland is ‘getting more than its fair share’ – which astonished the farming community.
“Instead of standing up for Scottish farming, Alistair Carmichael is standing up for Owen Paterson – his priorities are all wrong.”
The decision by the coalition was a snub to the Scottish Parliament after MSPs from all Holyrood parties backed a joint letter demanding the funding be paid in full to farmers in Scotland.
Mr Carmichael has himself previously signalled his support for calls for the funding to be paid in full. Speaking in October, the Lib Dem MP said: “I am completely aware of that argument (on the extra £195m), and I am not without sympathy for the force of it.”
Ms Whiteford added: “There has been cross-party consensus in the Scottish Parliament that the convergence uplift must come to Scotland, yet UK Ministers have shown again today they are simply not listening , and worse Mr Carmichael is happy to follow his Tory leaders.”
Calling on the UK coalition to re-consider their decision, Ms Whiteford said: “My debate tomorrow gives them an opportunity to reconsider their head in the sand approach, listen to their own colleagues in Scotland, and put the convergence plans into action now rather than wait until 2016.
“When I met Scottish farmers leaders last week in Westminster they expressed deep concern about the way the UK Government is short changing Scottish farmers over CAP support, and Mr Carmichael’s letter will only add to that concern.
“Thanks to the Tory-Liberal coalition, Scotland now languishes at the bottom of the European table in both direct payments and Rural Development Funding, and the convergence uplift is intended to create a more level playing field for Scotland’s farmers. Once again Westminster cannot be trusted.
“Mr Carmichael’s letter makes it clearer than ever that a Yes vote next year offers the best solution for Scotland’s farming and rural communities.”