The farming industry has been advised to “march with its feet” in the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections and show the SNP what it thinks of the Government’s handling of the farm payments debacle.
That was the message from Jim Walker, a former farmers union leader and currently the managing director of Argent Energy, in a passionate speech to sheep industry leaders in Edinburgh.
Mr Walker called for heads to roll over the crisis and poured scorn on farm lobbying organisations including NFU Scotland for their “deafening wall of silence” over the delay in payments.
The former firebrand farming politician said that if he was currently part of a lobbying organisation he’d be “knocking down Nicola Sturgeon’s door”.
“This crisis won’t stop her getting elected but the Scottish industry in the countryside should march with its feet. We put the SNP into power years ago and we can dent their chances of being quite as dominant in the next parliament.
“But we’ve got to go to her as Lochhead has lost control of his civil servants. Nobody can mis-spend this amount of money and mismanage a scheme and an industry like this and survive. It is absolutely impossible.
“When I got involved in farming politics in the mid-1990s it was because of government incompetence and the lack of response from our trade associations over the beef crisis. Today’s crisis is much worse and the silence is deafening. We’re sitting down, allowing it to happen.”
Mr Walker said farmers were phoning him, in tears, asking for advice.
“I’ve had more calls from farmers in the last two months than any time in my life, including during BSE.
“There is no excuse not to lay into (Lochhead).
“It’s the biggest open goal ever and they can’t even kick the ball in.”
“I cannot believe the lobby organisations are standing so quietly in the background.
“Alan Bowie (the current president) shouldn’t plead for money for individuals but stand up and tell them the Scottish economy is suffering. It needs to be sorted before the Scottish Parliament breaks up. End of story.”
Mr Walker, who led NFUS during the devastating Foot and Mouth Crisis and actively campaigned for a “yes” vote in the referendum, predicted the Scottish Government would fall foul of EU regulations because of their mismanagement of farm payments.
“There will be three criteria for disallowance. There’s no way we’ll make the payment window by the end of June, so that’s a disallowance,” he said.
“There has to be an audit trail so that EU auditors can inspect how the money has been paid and then justify it but that’s never going to happen between now and any inspection.
“And third: What’s happening with LFA support? No one is talking about that, and it would normally be paid by now.
Mr Walker said it was unacceptable that the banks and supply trade were acting as “the paymasters for the government” because it had failed to honour any of the commitments made by rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead over the last two years and he urged lobbyists to act fast.
“We need to get hold of the public accounts committee,” he said.
“They have power and they should be interested in this because what has happened is a misappropriation of funds.”