Fergusson criticises SNP comments on CAP payments

Galloway and West Dumfries MSP Alex Fergusson has slammed comments made by the SNP claiming the UK government had failed Galloway’s farming sector over EU budget allocations.

SNP MSP for the South of Scotland Dr Aileen McLeod last week criticised the EU agricultural budget allocation for 2014-2020, which has seen the UK end up with the lowest Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments anywhere in Europe. She added that this stands to cost the industry at least £850 million over the next five years.

But MSP Alex Fergusson said he shared the disappointment, but that the SNP should be addressing the “very real issues” here in southern Scotland.

He said: “It is both interesting and deeply disappointing that every time the SNP Government is asked about the impact of the current CAP reforms on Scottish agriculture, it simply lambasts the UK Government over the recent allocation of the ‘convergence uplift’ and the CAP reform package, rather than address the very real issues that these reforms bring with them – especially here in the South of Scotland. This is pretty rich when the cabinet secretary himself welcomed the final CAP reform package as ‘a good deal for Scotland’!

“Firstly, let me make it quite clear that I share the disappointment of everyone that the UK Government felt unable to allocate at least a significant proportion of the ‘convergence uplift’ to Scotland over and above the 16% that is our normal allocation and which we will receive. Indeed, I co-signed a letter to the UK Secretary of State highlighting the strong case for the whole of the uplift to be allocated to Scotland along with Richard Lochhead MSP, Tavish Scott MSP and Claire Baker MSP, and I would not have done so had I not believed in the justice of that position.

However, I acknowledge that for the UK Government to have done so would have meant a complete restructuring of its historic allocation mechanism for all European funding, and it is becoming clearer by the day that the Scottish Government was outmanoeuvred in negotiations on that subject by the Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies and the English NFU. One might ask oneself how the Scottish Government hopes to negotiate with 28 Member States when it appears to have so conspicuously failed to successfully negotiate with one.

“Secondly, while I fully appreciate that the EU’s policy is to bring about convergence of area payments, nowhere does it state that that convergence has to be achieved immediately. Scotland is only in the position that she is in because of the vast area of genuine hill, mountain and moorland that we have, which produces almost nothing agriculturally, and which has only become a factor since it was agreed to move from historical to area based payments from 2015. The EU’s requirement is that member states move towards convergence by 2020, which is why we must seize the opportunity afforded by the UK Government’s suggested Review of allocations, which is to report by 2017, and push hard for any recommendations from that Review to be implemented immediately rather than waiting until post 2020. Richard Lochhead’s apparent rejection of that Review does him no favours whatsoever, and simply confirms that his rhetoric has more to do with the outcome of next year’s Referendum than with a sustainable future for Scottish farmers.

“Finally, the accusation that the SNP like to make that the UK Government has somehow ‘stolen’ Scotland’s money through this decision is complete and utter nonsense. As I said, Scotland will receive our normal allocation – 16% - of the convergence uplift, just as we would with any other form of European funding. Yes – I would like to have seen a greater share, but I would put money on the fact that if Richard Lochhead had been the Secretary of State instead of Owen Paterson, he would have taken exactly the same decision. Indeed I put that very possibility to him in the Debating Chamber, and he did not challenge me.

“The best future for Scottish farming lies with ensuring that we secure the best possible CAP deal for Scottish Farmers from within the UK. As Spain, Belgium and other Member States have recently confirmed, a ‘Yes’ vote in September’s referendum could easily mean a temporary end to any CAP support while EU membership negotiations take place, and who knows what terms and conditions an Independent Scotland would have to sign up to in order to achieve full membership of the EU? Furthermore, one cannot hide the fact that, on an individual basis, Scotland’s farmers receive the second highest payment per farm in the EU, and £9000 per farm on average more than any other farmer in the UK. Which EU Member State, I wonder, will readily vote to surrender some of its own allocation to further boost Scottish payments?

“Recent decisions may be disappointing but, above all else, they represent a failure by the Scottish Government to negotiate a better outcome. I remain utterly convinced that the future of Scottish farming, as with other sectors, will be infinitely better served if we remain part of the United Kingdom.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “During EU CAP reform negotiations, the UK Government secured significant wins for Scotland and the entire UK, particularly ensuring that the Scottish Government can implement the CAP according to Scottish priorities.

“Scottish farmers will continue to receive one of the highest payments per farm in the EU.”