Rural Scotland would be transformed to hot-spot from not-spot through ambitious plans for better connectivity in an independent Scotland.
Speaking at the Royal Highland Show, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said independence would empower rural Scotland, transforming it into a more prosperous, better connected country – bringing many benefits including faster broadband for all, fairer fuel prices and more influence.
“Rural Scotland is already a fantastic place to live and work. But imagine how much better it could be if we had the powers to make the changes we need.
“In an independent Scotland we will be able to set our own priorities and recognise that rural Scotland has some distinct needs which must be met to allow our rural communities to survive and thrive.
“For instance, we could follow in the footsteps of Sweden, where they auctioned their 3G mobile licences to maximise coverage and ensure a good service to all their communities, creating a nation-wide connectivity hot-spot.
“Devolution has already brought many benefits for rural Scotland – protecting our rural schools, fighting tooth and nail for a fair deal for our fishermen and farmers and empowering communities through the community right to buy land fund.
“With limited powers, the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government have proven that we can shape policies that are more closely aligned to the needs and aspirations of the people of Scotland.
“But, with a full set of powers and responsibilities, we can do even more. I firmly believe Scotland’s true potential has yet to be unleashed.
“An independent Scotland would have the full range of tax levers at its disposal to boost growth and address inequality for all of Scotland. We could look at the overall taxation system to ensure it maximised benefit for all Scotland – including rural areas. And we would also have non-fiscal levers, such as competition and regulation policy, which could be used to meet the specific needs of rural Scotland.
“From using the taxation system to boost tourism and ensure fairer fuel prices, to using regulatory powers on issues like delivery charges and broadband/mobile coverage, all options would be on the table in our effort to secure a brighter future for rural Scotland.
“The pace of change is quickening and the debate is unfolding. Our choice about what we want to see for Scotland’s future is fast approaching. This is a hugely exciting time for Scotland and I am proud to be part of it.”
Mr Lochhead also told his audience that being governed by Westminster denies Scotland’s farmers money. Under the terms of the most recent CAP negotiation an independent Scotland would have received an extra 1 billion euros of CAP support between 2014 and 2020 than Scotland’s farmers will get under the Westminster system.
Scotland could also benefit from additional rural development cash by prioritising spending in this area – as nations like Ireland have already done.
Mr Lochhead added:
”As an independent member state, with vision and with ambition, we could do so much more to influence better outcomes for rural Scotland and its industries. You only have to look to countries like Ireland – a country of similar size to Scotland – to see what is possible.
”Despite having less than 25 per cent of the agricultural land of the UK, Ireland has provisionally negotiated a £2 billion euro allocation for rural economic development. That’s a country the size of Scotland securing the same as 85 per cent of the UK’s total allocation – simply because they believe in the value of rural economic development.
”If Scotland had been independent when the latest CAP budget was being decided, we would have benefited from a rule that – by 2020 – no member state would receive less than an average of 196 euros per hectare in direct payments.
”With independence between 2014 and 2020 our farmers would have received an additional 1 billion euros of support. The message is simple, the Westminster system is denying Scotland’s farmers money. With every £1 of output from the agricultural sector generating an additional 80p in other parts of the Scottish economy that would have been a widely shared benefit. This is funding which could help to transform the lives of those living and working in rural Scotland.”