SNP Conference: UK ministers 'working against Scotland'

Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead also claims UK Government has regarded Scottish fishermen as 'expendable' in EU negotiations

UK ministers have been “working against Scotland” by negotiating the nation to the bottom of the pile in EU rural budget talks at a cost of £850 million to farmers, Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has said.

Scotland previously received the third lowest level of farm support in Europe until the UK Government "negotiated Scotland down to the bottom", according to Mr Lochhead.

Scotland could "lose the ability to produce food" for its rising population unless it protects its producers, he said.

The UK Government has also regarded Scottish fishermen as "expendable" in negotiations over the common fisheries policy, he said.

Mr Lochhead also attacked the "concentrated wealth and power" of land owners who "block rural development and empowerment", pledging to look at the case for giving tenant farmers the right to buy the land they rent.

Independence could herald a "rural renaissance" in Scotland and deliver "huge dividends for farmers", he said.

Addressing the SNP Conference in Perth, Mr Lochhead said: "I argued for a greater share of Europe's farming and rural budgets for Scotland. Owen Paterson argued for less.

"At one point, he even argued for no budget because he wanted the free market to reign supreme even if it meant a slow and painful death for Scottish agriculture.

"Try telling the hill farmer on Mull or the crofter on Skye who couldn't compete without public support.

"Today, I am publishing information that highlights why the UK Government has once again let rural Scotland down. These EU funding league tables show how the UK Government negotiatedScotland down to the bottom in negotiations.

"Scotland went into the negotiations with a pitiful third lowest level of farm support in Europe. Europe then agreed a formula to close the gap between the countries with lowest payments with those of the highest.

"Scotland has now been leapfrogged by Latvia and Lithuania whose ministers sit at the top table and make their farmers a priority, and now we are stuck at the bottom of the league.

"We didn't benefit from the new funding formula because it only applies to member states, and the UK Government refused to seek a fairer share of the budget for Scotland.

"As a result, our farmers have lost out big time - indeed, to the tune of a massive £850 million."

He added: "The No campaign tell us we need to be part of big UK to get a good deal for Scotland. That we're better together. Well these tables tell us they couldn't do any worse.

"Independence will deliver huge dividends for our farmers and rural Scotland. Imagine what we could achieve if we represented ourselves in Europe. Representatives working for Scotland, not against Scotland."

He said Scotland could be the same as the small Scandinavian nations Norway, which has "the best quality of life" in the world; Sweden, "the world's most sustainable nation"; and Denmark "the world's happiest country".

And independence is the "only way to guarantee the future of rural postal services", he said.

"Last week one of my local posties in Moray told me he was voting Yes next year as the only hope to save his job," he said.

"We need all these powers not sitting in London but available to us here in Scotland. We can then sit down together to plan a rural renaissance."

A Scotland Office spokesman said: "The Scottish Government cannot ignore the fact Scottish farmers have the second highest direct payment per farmer compared to all EU member states.

"While the precise CAP allocations across the UK from 2014 will be announced in due course, there is little doubt the UK was able to use its size and influence to deliver a whole range of things that benefit Scotland in the recent negotiations.

"This included a fully regionalised CAP, which was supported by the Scottish Government.

"They should acknowledge these realities rather than pursue relentless negativity on this issue."