By a Newsnet reporter
Yes campaigners have hailed as a victory a debate on independence held in front representatives of Scotland’s rural community after an exit poll of over one hundred of those in attendence showed more support for the Yes campaign.
Monday’s debate at the Stirling Agricultural Centre, was organised by the National Farmers Union Scotland and watched by 450 people.
Speaking on behalf of the Yes Scotland campaign was Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Richard Lochhead and Perthshire farmer Jim Fairlie, a member of the Farming for Yes group.
Speaking on behalf of the Better Together was Scottish Secretary of State Alistair Carmichael, Scottish MEP and chairman of the Rural Better Together campaign George Lyon and Aberdeenshire farmer Peter Chapman, from the Rural Better Together group.
The audience were treated to a passionate debate with both sides seeking to persuade onlookers of the strengths of their respective argument. One of the key areas brought up was the recent decision by the UK coalition to refuse to hand over in full to Scotland, EU funding accrued solely because of poor payments to Scottish farmers.
On the issue of the UK’s EU membership, there were gasps from the audience as Scottish Secretary, Alistair Carmichael claimed there would be “no danger” that the UK could leave the EU, in spite of Tory promises of an in/out referendum.
An exit poll of some attendees, mostly farmers, indicated a decisive victory for the Yes campaign, with 52 people supporting Yes against 32 in favour of No – 28 were undecided. In percentage terms it showed 46% declaring for Yes, 29% for No and 25% undecided.
The result followed a similar trend in recent debates that has witnessed swings to Yes after audiences are presented with well organised, mature presentations and exchanges.
Commenting on the the exit poll, the Yes campaign said it highlighted that “the more people are exposed to the arguments of independence, the more likely they are to vote Yes.”
Yes Scotland’s sectoral groups advisor Toni Giugliano said: “The exit poll confirms the mood of the audience throughout the debate. It became clear, particularly from the second half following rapturous applause for the Yes speakers, that the audience was siding with Farming for Yes.
“The No debaters admitted disappointment at the UK Government’s refusal to transfer the uplift funds but disappointment isn’t good enough. Alistair Carmichael is in Government and has failed to stand up for Scottish farmers.
“Our farmers know that with independence they’ll always have a Government that stands up for the distinct needs of Scottish agriculture. Currently those distinct needs are ignored by Westminster. If they want to secure Scotland’s continued EU membership, then the only way to do that is to vote Yes.
“We’d like to thanks the NFU for putting together the event and for securing such an impressive turnout.”
One of Scotland’s leading lamb and beef farmers Jim Fairlie explained his reason for backing Yes and told the audience about the progress farming made since the creation of the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Fairlie from Perthshire said: “If you have an issue with the decisions that are being made on our behalf, you can pick up the phone to the Scottish Government and they will hear what you have to say, they may not always agree with your view, but your view will definitely be heard.
“Try getting hold of Owen Patterson for a discussion about the priorities for Scottish agriculture, our cabinet secretary struggles to do that let alone any of us. That’s the real difference when it comes to accountability. You also need accessibility.”
Speaking prior to the debate, Clare Slipper, Parliamentary Officer for NFU Scotland said it offered a “hugely exciting” opportunity for both sides to make their case and answer questions.
Ms Slipper added: “As the date of the referendum draws nearer, it is now more important than ever that our members gain a perspective on the arguments at play in the debate in order to make an informed decision in September.
“Our recent AGM in St Andrews showed that there is a real appetite for an event such as this.
“We are positive that this event will stimulate a new and dynamic agricultural perspective in the debate over Scotland’s constitutional future, and are delighted to be hosting this event in UA Stirling.”
Farming for Yes was created last year to put forward the case for independence for Scotland’s farmers and rural communities and is open to new members.