SCOTTISH Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott was on the campaign trail at a farm on Tuesday.
The Shetland farmer joined local candidates Jeremy Purvis and Jim Hume at Scottish farming leader Nigel Miller’s farm at Stagehall, near Stow, to promote the Lib Dem’s rural action plan.
Mr Scott said: “Supporting our agricultural sector is essential to keeping communities alive, and local shops, schools and companies in business.
“Scotland’s farmers and crofters need a government on their side, stopping the worst excesses of Europe and making sure our industry gets a fair crack in the market. Our action plan will help grow a successful rural economy.”
He told TheSouthern: “I want to see rural communities profiting, doing well, growing and developing. Farming is integral to keeping people in beautiful parts of the world such as the Borders.”
The issue he highlights as being of concern locally is jobs and a need for private sector employment and less reliance on the public sector.
“We need to make sure we help businesses grow and take on more people,” he said.
Asked if he was concerned about the Lib Dems coalition government with the Conservatives at Westminster hitting his party’s traditional stronghold in the Borders, he said: “It’s difficult.I think people are not going to voluntarily vote for the Lib Dems the way they have before, but I think, ultimately, they will.
“People are understandably concerned about the UK government because it’s had to take hard decisions.
“Most people I’ve met in the Borders do know that a government had to deal with the financial mess which was left by the last UK government. No-one comes into politics to have to do difficult things, but that’s now what’s happening.”
The party’s rural action plan advocates innovation in rural businesses, delivering super-fast broadband, encouraging the creation of affordable homes from disused farm buildings, helping rural post offices and filling stations survive, retaining Scotland’s forest in public ownership, increasing forest cover, but not at the cost of ‘good agricultural land’, having new regional development banks develop new local tourism plans and supporting rural co-operatives.
Concerning agriculture, the Lib Dems would reduce the costs of rural development schemes, fast-tracking smaller schemes to reduce expensive adviser costs, encouraging take-up and cutting red tape. They say they would campaign for fairer prices for producers, flexibility to implement new farm payment changes, build up a national reserve of Single Farm Payments for new farmers and developing businesses, continue the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme currently under threat, try for a fairer distribution of funding from Europe for Scotland’s direct payments and rural development, work with the UK Government and European Commission to reform the Common Agricultural Policy into a simpler and less bureaucratic model, with a more proportionate penalty system and review the need for on-farm burial of livestock.
Mr Purvis said: “We want to make sure we have got rural communities that are really sustainable.”
And he highlighted the importance of making sure that agricultural businesses are directly supported, the need for faster broadband, opportunities for young people and proper housing, including the wLib Dem initiative to bring farm buildings in to use. Mr Purvis said his party would set aside a quarter of a billion pounds for the digital economy, adding: “This is the way forward – a lot more trading and just even daily monitoring of grain or fuel prices is done online: broadband is key. ”
Yarrow farmer Mr Hume said: “The Scottish food and drink industry is worth billions: we need to see fairer prices. Dairy farmers are disappearing because of supermarkets abusing their power and smaller farms have been struggling to get access to rural development funds. We want to make it easier for them to access that money and we also want to address red tape.”
With 26 per cent of the Borders dependant on agriculture, the Lib Dems rural action plan is hugely important to the region, he said.