NOW for something completely different – the weather. Small wonder that we think about it so much when what should be spring is more like a wet and blustery autumn with temperatures about half the seasonal average.
Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but the daily temperature certainly feels about half of what it should be when wind-chill is taken into consideration. Wind-chill? In May? We’d better believe it.
At time of writing, the medium-term forecast does not suggest that the weather will improve in any way soon. It could well get worse, with snow and sleet forecast for the north of Scotland in the next few days.
After the wettest April for 100 years, the final official conclusion, and one of the coldest since records began in 1766 or thereabouts, we have moved seamlessly into what threatens to be one of the coldest formerly-merry months of May.
Crops and grass are growing slowly, sheep and cattle are grazing without much enthusiasm and there’s a lack of the cheerfulness among farmers that a warm and sunny spring can bring. What we’d all give for a re-run of that heatwave week at the end of March with the sun on our backs and a song in our heart.
I don’t know what Her Majesty thought last week as she ploughed through the Queen’s Speech as written by the Westminster coalition. One newspaper cartoon caught it well, I thought – it showed her talking to Prince Philip later: “I could hear myself talking, but I don’t think I was saying anything.”
Time will tell, but one of the less publicised parts of the speech – which is saying something – noted that the Government plans to introduce a Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill.
Theoretically, if eventually made law, this long-winded title and accompanying legislation will give suppliers, especially smaller ones, more protection against the wiles and bully-boy tactics of the major supermarkets; that’s my paraphrasing, by the way.
More politely, the farmers’ unions got excited about the bill, noting that it will be expected to protect suppliers; break down the “climate of fear” which prevents them complaining about bad treatment in case they lose the business entirely; ensure that large retailers can be held to account for their actions; give suppliers more encouragement to invest and innovate by stopping supermarkets passing on risk and costs; and, crucially, the unions think, be in the long-term interests of consumers.
As I said, time will tell. The hope is that the proposed legislation will succeed where the grocery supply code of 2010 failed. That didn’t work because suppliers could use it to complain about unfair treatment, but most were afraid to do that even anonymously because they feared being identified, victimisation and lost business.
I don’t know whether the new bill, if it ever makes it through the legislative process, will be any more successful. Looked at from any angle, if supplying big retailers was a poker game, the supermarkets would still hold the aces and make the rules.
A Danish businessman now apparently owns about 130,000 acres of Scotland and hopes to buy a further 50,000 acres. He says he has a keen interest in the environment. An “observer” of the land market was quoted as saying that foreign investors buy land in Scotland, and Britain because it is seen as secure investment outside the volatile euro currency zone.
Or it could just be that the urge to own land, any land, is one of humanity’s driving forces and a businessman worth an estimated £4 billion is in a better position than most to satisfy that urge.
It’s all a question of scale. I once pointed out at a farming dinner that fellow speaker John Cameron and I owned 50,001 acres between us, it was only a pity from my point of view that he owned 50,000 of them. Large-scale land buyers on both sides of the Border also spring to mind such as John Campbell in Peebles-shire and beyond and Duncan Davidson in Northumberland.
For most of us, a few hundred acres would be good going. Or, for millions of people, a house and garden would suffice.
The gripe for those who don’t own land, as exemplified by the continuing bitter exchanges between landowning and tenant farming organisations and some of the personal experiences quoted – usually in anonymous letters to the editor, is the same “climate of fear” that affects supermarket suppliers – is how most hereditary landowners got their land in the first place.
Not that, perish the thought, I’m thinking of Buccleuch Estates and the Duke of Northumberland.
Let’s not kid ourselves about human nature. Anyone inheriting land, no matter how it was acquired, is not going to give it away. But the dodginess of much hereditary landowning makes it laughable that anyone, foreign or home-bred, should be criticised for using their own money to buy land.
Most of us do it when we can and that is not going to change. What would happen to all those poor estate agents hoping for commission if it did?