Maree Todd: The Threat of Brexit For Our Farmers

I’m delighted to be heading to Orkney at the end of the week to meet with a number of folk about Scottish Parliament issues – and fit in some General Election campaigning now that things have resumed after the awful incident in Manchester on Monday night.

It is maybe easy to forget that Holyrood is still in session. However, our business carries on. This week this included my own members’ debate on World Hypertension Month. It highlighted a silent condition, which is a preventable cause of stroke and heart disease. An estimated 30% of adults in Scotland have high blood pressure, half of whom aren’t receiving treatment, and that includes 70,860 people in the Highlands and Islands living with the condition. Hopefully my debate helped raise awareness of hypertension, which is currently the subject of work by Professor Rhian Touyz of the British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence at the University of Glasgow, aiming to understand its causes.

Away from the chamber though the political buzz is almost entirely about the campaign that will culminate on Thursday, 8 June. I will be doing all I can to ensure that the SNP’s Miriam Brett is sent to Westminster to give Orkney and Shetland a strong voice as we face Brexit uncertainty.

For Brexit is one of the issues that the Tories don’t want to talk about at this election – and little wonder.

Possibly the biggest worry for Scotland is felt in the fragile rural economy and the farming sector which sits at its heart. Nowhere is this more true than in Orkney. According to research by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and data from the RESAS Farm Accounts Survey, some 50% of Scottish farms are unprofitable without EU CAP payments. Some rural groups are even discussing the possibly of around 60% of Scottish farmers going out of business if EU farm subsidies are not maintained by Westminster post-Brexit.

Some 85% of Scottish farmland, including Orkney, is classed as Less Favoured Area (LFA), compared to only 15% in England. This LFA qualifies for extra support, so Scotland relies more heavily on the EU than the rest of the UK. Significant farm losses would create an economic crisis that would devastate rural Scotland, negatively impacting farm support businesses. These include seed and fertiliser businesses, hauliers, vets, engineers, vehicle suppliers, food processors and abattoirs, marketing and local builders and retailers that make up the fragile rural economy.

So will post-Brexit UK be able to replace CAP payments – and will they want to? The rest of the UK gets very little in CAP payments but Scotland, with a population share of 8.4%, gets over 17% of the UK’s EU farm subsidies. It means that, if the subsidy hole is not plugged, £560m will be missing from the Scottish economy.

The likelihood is that trade agreements will prohibit farm subsidy as we know it. That’s why no assurance beyond 2019 has been given by the Tories. That is also why powers over agriculture will likely go to Westminster post-Brexit – to maintain the UK internal market so UK-wide trade deals can be struck.

Without being in any way flippant about the condition I highlighted in my members’ debate, it’s enough to raise your blood pressure.

A vote for Miriam Brett on 8 June will ensure Orkney’s will be part of chorus of strong Scottish voices at Westminster, which is exactly what we need at this time.

This is a regular column by local MSP Maree Todd, SNP

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