Landlines: Maybe not the greatest show on earth, but better than last year

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A Highland Show bounce-back attendance of more than 170,000 over four days was recorded by closing time on Sunday night – up almost 10,000 on last year’s show which was affected by wet weather – if 10,000 below the record attendance of a few years ago.

But still good news for the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, with various office holders claiming it a sign of returning confidence among farmers and the rural community, and one over-excited publicist claiming it as “the greatest show on earth”.

Not quite, but a good example of a well-run event which has managed to keep moving forward while retaining the traditional elements of an agricultural show, including livestock judging and lots of big, shiny, machines at eye-watering prices.

For years it has also been the event where politicians make announcements calculated to attract a favourable headline, usually something to do with extra funds for some sector of farming.

This year, farming supporters of the ‘No to Scottish independence’ campaign held press conferences and looked for signatories and the “Yes to independence’ campaigners argued their case.

With about 15 months before a vote on independence is held, it was difficult to work up enthusiasm about such politicking at a farm show, but on it went anyway with, predictably, both sides claiming support.

I’ll wait for the vote and the final count.

After all that premeditated and concentrated effort about independence, however, it was a chance remark at a press conference – if experienced politicians ever do anything so naïve – by Scotland’s rural affairs cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead that produced the surprise.

It was that a right to buy for tenant farmers is back on the SNP government’s agenda after having apparently been dropped.

His throwaway line produced a fireworks display of ­reaction from organisations such as the Scottish Land and Estates group – Scotland’s landowners – and the Scottish Tenant Farmers’ Association.

As has been apparent since devolution for Scotland in 1999, even within such entrenched organisations there are divided feelings on whether giving every tenant farmer the right to buy their land, whether or not the landlord wishes to sell, is a good idea.

That is also true of NFU Scotland, which has many owner-occupiers and landowners among its members as well as tenant farmers, although so far its fence-sitting seems to have upset more of its tenant members than those who own land already.

Whoever was most upset by the Scottish government’s apparent U-turn, I suspect that Mr Lochhead’s remark was planned.

There’s no easy answer and an argument that has gone on for more than a decade is likely to run on for some time, regardless of what happens in the independence referendum of 2014

I wonder how many farming visitors to the Highland Show were distracted from the livestock rings and machinery stands by politics and politicians?