Scottish farmers have no trust in DEFRA to represent Scottish agriculture

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by a Newsnet reporter

Not a single Scottish farmer polled by the Scottish Farmer Magazine believes that Westminster’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) looks after Scottish interests in discussions with EU officials about the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Questioned by the magazine in a poll published on Saturday 11 February, the magazine’s report says:  “100% of respondents disagreed that Defra would fight for Scottish interests in the forthcoming CAP negotiations.”

The Westminster department, headed by Conservative MP Caroline Spelman, has consistently refused to include Scottish Government ministers in discussions with EU counterparts even though agriculture is a responsibility devolved to the Holyrood Parliament.  Westminster claims that discussions with the EU is a power reserved to Westminster, and refuses to countenance representation from Scotland in the UK negotiating team.  The Scottish Government argues that this stance means Scottish interests cannot be properly represented at an EU level, a position with which the Scottish farming community apparently overwhelmingly agrees.

The Scottish Government says that the new poll published by the respected Scottish Farmer Magazine proves that there is widespread distrust of Defra amongst the Scottish farming industry, and demands that Scottish ministers must be fully included in all future negotiations on the CAP.

SNP MSP for South Scotland, Paul Wheelhouse, said today that the poll result sent a strong message to the UK government that the exclusion of Scottish Ministers from European talks is unacceptable to Scotland’s farming community.

Mr Wheelhouse said:

“This is the clearest indication yet that Scottish farmers don’t trust Westminster to look after their unique interests in the forthcoming CAP negotiations.

“Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead, has made it clear that not only is he ready and willing to take an active part in the discussions in order to represent the Scottish agriculture industry, but also that he is best placed to do so.

“DEFRA are not doing themselves any favours in the eyes of Scottish agriculture workers by excluding Scottish ministers from the negotiations.  It is not too late for them to change their minds and do the responsible thing by letting the Scottish Government, who are responsible for rural affairs in Scotland, step in to put the strongest possible case for Scottish interests.

“The situation is fast approaching whereby Scotland will be forgotten and left out in the cold again in terms of European legislation.  We cannot allow this to happen at a time when Scottish farm incomes are increasing but costs are rising.  A balance must be found and the CAP negotiations are the ideal time to do this.

“If Westminster continue with their ridiculous insistence on excluding Richard Lochhead from the talks, they will not be forgiven by  Scotland’s farmers.”