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Further Thoughts After Departing the Belfast Ferry

Alec RossBy Alec Ross

So. Today.

A Scottish independence supporting, atheist Remainer went to Northern Ireland and met a Unionist, deeply devout Brexiteer.

This isn’t the start of a bar room joke , but the reality of my working day today.

In my experience, farmers are no different to anyone else in that they like to measure you up before doing business. That’s actually pretty healthy and I’ve discovered that honesty breaks a lot of ice. Plus, farmers are the most baloney-proof people on the planet. You wouldn’t last five minutes if you were less than straight with a dairy farmer from Dungannon.

There was a time, long ago, when I might have been circumspect in my views because I subliminally bought into the narrative that being honest is bad for business in a farming industry that is perceived to be anti-independence.

I’m discovering that the opposite is true. For sure, you’re there to talk business, not politics. You don’t go there to force your opinions on anyone.

But what will they think of you if you evade a genuine enquiry? If it were the other way round, I’d think “If he’s being evasive on this, what else isn’t he telling me?Why would I want to do business with this guy?”.

I now realise that folk much prefer respectful honesty more than faux diplomacy and peely-wally platitudes, even if it flies in the face of their deeply held beliefs. And, frankly if you can’t speak your mind, then what is the point? By being honest you pay someone a significant compliment. You’re essentially saying “I can see you’re a good guy. I respect you, so I’m telling you what I believe is the truth, even if I fundamentally disagree with you”.

Today I visited a Dungannon dairy farm and had the privilege of spending three hours with two brothers and their 109 strong herd of robot-milked Fleckvieh cows.

Everything connects.

I felt quite at home as I spent every day watching a neighbour in the Lochans employing the same “zero grazing” (mowing grass and feeding it to cows inside) method as they were employing to such obvious success.

Inevitably, we finally ran out of dairy cow material to talk about – although it took a while.

“I notice your accent”, he said. “Are you one of those Scottish independence boys that wants to stay in the EU”?

The time when I’d have fudged the answer to this has long gone.

“Aye”, I said. “I wish we could be independent tomorrow but I’ve wanted it all my life so I’m prepared to wait a couple more months for its inevitable arrival. Scotland is on a different political journey that can only be resolved with independence. I want an independent Scotland to stay in the EU but ultimately it’s up to the sovereign people of Scotland to decide. Whatever we decide will be cool with me because it will be our decision, not someone else’s”.

Of all the hastily rewritten narratives of the 2014, the most botched of them was that it was somehow divisive.

It’s funny. They weren’t calling it divisive when they were cancelling Prime Minister’s Questions to travel up to Glasgow by trains paid for by me and you to tell us how stupid we were. Membership of this most precious of unions affords you the privilege of paying through the nose for your own belittlement from people who despise you. At some point in 2014, somebody threw an egg at Jim Murphy, which is as about as divisive as things ever got.

Be upfront about stuff.

Acknowledge difference. Be honest.

Being respectful enriches us all.

The next Conservative leader and the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom does, and has, none of this. He exemplifies a political direction of travel that Scotland has shunned for over sixty years.

The dairy farmers shook me warmly by the hand, whilst expressing the wish that Scotland should remain in the union.

But I got the distinct impression that our future relationship, business or otherwise, would have little to do with the constitutional arrangements of our respective countries.

In the end, it’s about people. And respect. And truth.

Their order has been despatched, by the way. It will get to Dungannon on Friday.

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