Scotland’s First Minister cosied up to the farming industry in Glasgow and assured producers it was in their best interests for her Government rather than Westminster to control post-Brexit agricultural policy and spending.
Less than 24 hours after Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson predicted a looming ‘almighty row’ over control of farming policy, Nicola Sturgeon indicated she was ready for the fight.
“We’re in for a bit of a battle in the months ahead,” she told delegates at NFU Scotland’s annual meeting.
“It’s really important to the industry, not just Government, that we don’t lose that battle; that we make sure that responsibility stays in Scotland so we can ensure together that the very distinctive needs of Scotland agriculture are not lost in a UK-wide approach. That’s going to be an important issue in the months to come.”
Ms Sturgeon’s speech oozed support for the industry and offered a few sweeteners including concessions on greening and an extra £16,000 to promote meat at key international food shows. And she criticised Defra’s decision to distribute the extra EU convergence uplift monies across the UK when they were intended for disadvantaged Scottish farmers .
“We need to address this obvious injustice,” she said.
She promised opportunities for new entrants; insisted that farming needed to be recognised as central to Scotland’s food and drink industry; and apologised for the IT failures which delayed EU support payments to the industry.
“I expect all 2016 payments to be made by the end of June,” she said. “I’m sorry and I’m determined not to repeat the problems in future.”
Ms Sturgeon insisted that she took a simple view of the devolution of agriculture.
“Agriculture policy is devolved now and we operate within the framework of the CAP right now. If that’s changing in future there should be no question that responsibility for agriculture policy remains with the Scottish parliament,” she said.
“Anything else would not be grabbing power from Europe, it would be grabbing power from the Scottish parliament and that would be unacceptable.”
However she conceded that in matters of regulations, a UK-wide framework made sense.
She added: “We will want to put in place UK-wide frameworks, but these decisions should be with the Scottish parliament. The detail of them should not be imposed by having power sucked away to the centre in Westminster.”