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Parliamentary Officer Blog - 26 October 2015

A referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017 will be the fifth time in as many years that Scottish voters have gone to the ballot box writes NFU Scotland's Parliamentary Officer Clare Slipper.
 
At this time we know what membership of the EU entails but we don’t know what would be the impact of being outside of the EU since we do not know the relationship the UK would have, nor the conditions under which our farmers would be expected to operate if we choose to leave the EU.
 
Before the vote, we are looking for a clear business case to be presented that will clarify the headline issues for Scottish farmers. 
 
In the case of a British exit from the EU (‘Brexit’), how would the food production support system we currently have in the form of the CAP be replicated? Would it be possible to maintain the access to markets that we currently enjoy via the EU single market? What will be the impact on Scotland’s food and drink exports, which were worth £5.1 billion in 2014, and the subsequent consequences for Scotland’s farming and crofting businesses?
 
Farmers would prefer to farm without the financial support they receive from the EU but the reality is that most farms don’t make enough from the market for this to be possible.   The CAP helps to address the failure of the market to provide a fair reward for what farmers produce.  Guarantees on what would replace EU financial support will be critical in determining a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ stance.
 
Many NFU Scotland members would argue that even if we do remain ‘in’, Scotland’s position within the EU is not fit for purpose.   An effective CAP should deliver stability for primary producers, allowing them to invest for the future when global prices are good, and providing insulation when prices take a sustained downturn. 
 
However, the CAP we have now is technocratic, driving support away from the areas that need it most in Scotland and burdening farmers with regulation.   The outcome of the Government renegotiations will be critical for some on whether they see the brighter future as being part of the EU.
 
Whilst all sides are currently setting out their stalls, and information on the government’s renegotiation agenda remains scant, the challenge for NFU Scotland will be to weigh up the emerging arguments and to listen to our membership about the issues that are most important to them in this debate.
 
NFU Scotland members are politically active and over 1,600 members attended our roadshow of independence debates in the lead-up to last year’s referendum. We anticipate the engagement in this debate will be equally as robust.
 
During this sustained period of low market returns and volatility, it is fair to say that Scottish farmers want to see political energy focused on implementing the measures that will secure a sustainable future for food production rather than political point-scoring over a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ stance.   
 
Whatever happens, politicians must recognise the considerable interests and concerns of farming within this debate, and focus on securing the best future for agriculture.
 

Author: Clare Slipper

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About The Author

Clare Slipper

Clare Slipper joined NFU Scotland in 2014 as the Union’s first dedicated Parliamentary Officer. Within her role, Clare briefs politicians in the Scottish, Westminster and European parliaments on key issues impacting Scottish food producers and represents members interests in the policy-making process. Clare started her career working for a public affairs and communications agency, where she worked with clients in the renewable energy and planning sectors. She graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in Politics and Sociology in 2012.

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