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I was struck by the headline on the front page of a farming supplement in The Courier newspaper recently which read, "Defra doing Scottish farmers few favours in EU negotiations". The story related to a speech at a major farming conference, made by UK Agriculture Minister Owen Paterson. The speech illustrated how poorly Scottish farmers may be served by the UK Government at the all-important EU talks on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
In a scathing review, the reporter said that the UK Minister demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of farmers' priorities. In the specific context of Scottish agriculture, and more widely on the way EU decisions are reached, these comments are thought-provoking. We have the UK Minister showing himself to be hopelessly out of touch with Scottish farmers just when major decisions are about to be taken. And, no matter how hard Scottish
Government Ministers fight Scotland's corner, it is – regrettably – Mr Paterson who will sit, and vote, at the top table when crucial decisions affecting the future of agriculture in Scotland are being taken.
The Courier also commented on an Irish MEP's speech to the same audience, which cut straight to the main issue confronting farmers at the present time - CAP reform. Mairead McGuiness talked about the need to balance food production with environmental protection and rural development; issues which were rightly said to be "exactly what is needed" to keep rural and remote areas "viable and attractive."
With the Irish Government currently holding the EU Presidency, in charge of steering through changes to the way CAP supports Europe's farmers, it seems that Scotland's farmers find themselves more in step with the Irish Government's position on CAP reform than with the UK's Minister who will "represent" them at the EU talks.
Over the years there have been too many occasions when UK Ministers have been out of touch with Scotland, leaving our farmers and fishermen to bear the brunt of poor decisions taken by politicians whose priorities lie elsewhere.
The furthest reaching of these must be the disastrous decision, by a Tory Government, to drag Scotland into the deeply flawed Common Fisheries Policy – a betrayal for which our fishing communities continue to pay to this day.
Scotland's interests have been misrepresented by a succession of Labour, Tory and ConDem Westminster Governments in EU negotiations, and I seriously doubt Owen Paterson's commitment to reflect what's best for Scotland in ongoing negotiations.
Devolution, and in particular the election of an SNP Government at Holyrood, has helped, in that we now have a Parliament and Government which is keen to influence decisions taken at an EU level. I have no doubt that Richard Lochhead is fighting his hardest to secure what's best for Scotland's farming and fishing communities from CAP and CFP reform.
However, only independence will guarantee that Scotland's government can have a say at all levels of EU negotiation, so that decisions taken about Scottish agriculture, fisheries and other key national interests would better reflect the priorities of Scotland, and provide the best future for our country.