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NFU Scotland’s Origins

Although the meeting that officially inaugurated the Farmers Union of Scotland was held on the first of October 1913, it was preceded by a number of informal meetings at Kilmarnock auction market operated to the Donald family.

The most significant informal meeting was actually held at the 1913 Paisley ‘Highland’ show. It was there that a number of stalwarts met and decided to establish an organisation that would represent the views of farmers and particularly dairy farmers.

There is no record as to whether they had looked south where some 35,000 farmers had already joined the English Union which had been established in 1909 following a Farmers Union being set up in 1904 in Lincolnshire.  

The English Union set out with ten initial demands, one of which was to root out tuberculosis in cattle, a task which is still on their agenda one hundred years on.

Others included the ‘slaughter of all foreign and colonial sheep and swine at ports of entry to avoid disease’ and ‘vendors of foreign meat to ensure it was branded as such’. Another far-sighted aim of the Union pioneers in England was that the production of spirit from potatoes had to be free from excise duty.

The first formal meeting of the Farmers Union of Scotland, as it was called for the first four decades of its life, was held in the Religious Institution Rooms, 200 Buchanan Street, Glasgow. There it was reported the packed hall unanimously supported the setting up of the organisation with William Donald, Kilmarnock as president, a post he held until 1919.

A number of resolutions were passed at that meeting and they reflected the roots and concerns of the members, the main one being the furthering of interests of farmers in general and dairy farmers in particular.

Those present also supported sending out a fiery cross across Scotland in order to build up membership and that a ‘small entrance fee’ of five shillings or 25 pence in modern money, be subscribed by each member.

Reporting on the meeting the Scottish Farmer said the Farmers Union had made a great start: “The zeal of those who overcrowded the meeting was all right provided it was directed into a profitable channel.”

The paper also noted that all previous efforts at union among farmers had ‘shipwrecked on the snag of calling for co-operation and united action and then allowing the other man to co-operate and take the action.’ The trumpet call to those present was to ‘stand loyal and true to one another.’

The meeting also appointed J Montgomerie Pearson, of Over Lethame, Strathaven as the general secretary and he enthusiastically set to with, among other actions, a letter to the local press where he announced that the Farmers Union of Scotland would be inviting their counterparts in England to come north and speak to meetings in all the principal towns on the benefit on belonging to a Union.

Pearson was also responsible for organising the first annual meeting of the Union which was held in the Masonic Halls, Renfrew Street, Glasgow on the 25th of February 1914. The Union was reported already to have a strong foothold in the West and South West of Scotland also saw delegates come from Stirling and West Fife. They heard the president predict that in twelve months the ‘benefits of the Union would extend across Scotland.'

The first resolution debated by the Union was submitted by a Mr Frood on ‘the present poor price of milk’ and it was passed unanimously, but there was no such harmony on another proposal to affiliate to the English Union. While an approach to do so was made, the Scottish office bearers decided the one shilling (five pence) per member affiliation fee was too much!

Another resolution passed that day saw the annual subscription doubled without a murmur but then it was only going up from five shillings to ten (25 pence to 50 pence) per annum.

It was at that meeting the Union appointed its first auditor, Joseph Allison, who went on to audit the books of the Union for the next fifty years.

Mr Allison was still present at the annual general meeting held on 21st March 1947 where incoming president, Ian Campbell from Sutherland proposed the name of the Union be changed to the National Farmers Union of Scotland.

This article appeared in the first issue of 2013 NFU Scotland’s magazine, the Scottish Farming Leader and was written by Andrew Arbuckle.

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