Farmers divide into Yes and No referendum camps

Many farmers are busy with harvest just now before the crunch vote on September 18
Many farmers are busy with harvest just now before the crunch vote on September 18

Former farming leaders are lining up on opposite sides of the independence debate as the referendum nears.

Berwickshire farmers Sandy Mole, Greenburn, Reston, and Jim Stobo of Nabdean, Paxton, were among six past presidents of NFU Scotland and leaders in other farming organisations who went public with their voting intentions on September 18.

Also saying No to separation were nine former union vice-presidents, including Barclay Forrest, Whitemire, Duns, and a former Scottish Quality Meat Scotland chairman.

The Borders trio were among the group signing a collective statement saying: “Devolution has undeniably given us powers and levers in Holyrood to make our own decisions on a wide range of aspects affecting our agriculture, whilst sharing the benefits of a huge home UK market, and the clout and influence of one of the most successful and powerful family of nations in the world. We can see no real or long-term benefit to Scotland or Scottish agriculture from breaking up the United Kingdom.”

They argue key benefits to remaining part of the UK are: keeping the pound and currency union, keeping current tax and fiscal policies such as tax exemptions on inherited land, zero VAT rate on food, red diesel and the tax-free exemptions on herd basis; securing current CAP payments and uplift in payments in 2017 when the UK review of convergence is complete and keeping the best of both worlds with all aspects of agriculture decided in Holyrood, but still enjoying the benefits of sharing the risks, a large home market and the influence of the UK on the world stage.

But voting Yes next month will be four former presidents – John Ross, Jim Walker, John Kinnaird and John Cameron.

East Lothian farmer Mr Kinnaird of Papple, East Linton, said: “I am voting Yes because I believe this is the next logical process after devolution. Lines of communication with government are much quicker and more focussed.

“The current UK administration and other political parties lack focus, understanding and leadership on many issues, including EU membership.

Sanquhar farmer Mr Walker said: “The EU is important to the food and farming sector. It provides us with markets and is a source of grants and support.

“If, as seems increasingly likely, the UK leaves the EU after a promised in-out referendum, the funding that currently comes from Brussels will be left with HM Treasury and Scotland will be much more dependent on its decisions.

“Worryingly, we know from the decisions the Treasury has consistently taken over the last 20 years, irrespective of the party in power, it will prioritise cutting expenditure on food, farming and rural development rather than encouraging investment. That has been the pattern for years and won’t change now.

“Independence, on the other hand, will allow us to really back our food and farming sector, set our own priorities and sit at the European negotiating table, no longer affected by the UK Treasury indifference.”