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Political Affairs Manager's Blog 5 October 2018

As the NFU Scotland continues to lobby at the very highest levels, Political Affairs Manager Clare Slipper discusses what the Union representatives did at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

The world of political party conferences is rather new to NFU Scotland. The conferences were traditionally an annual soiree for the party faithful to get together, debate and set new policies.

However, in recent years they have massively increased in size and profile, with thousands of non-party observers attending the five-day-long events to get in front of political movers and shakers and to lobby.

With over 11,000 delegates at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham this week, it could be easy to feel like a little fish in a big pond. But these are extraordinary political times – and for NFU Scotland as a lobbying organisation, it was felt that if we did not jump in to that pond now, then when would we ever?

Andrew McCornick, Martin Kennedy, Jonnie Hall and I took that jump in to the Conservative Party Conference from Sunday through to Tuesday this week.

The power of networking cannot be underestimated and NFU Scotland attendance at these events is as much about opening doors with key political decision-makers so that they are easier to access whenever the Union might need to lean on them for support on any given issue.

Now, opening those doors at Westminster has never been more important – particularly as the Houses of Parliament are currently scrutinising an Agriculture Bill, which is the first piece of domestic legislation directly impacting upon agricultural policy in two generations.

During the three days spent at the conference, we worked hard to speak to as many new and existing contacts as we could. To name just some, we caught up with Secretary of State for Defra Michael Gove, and his Farming Minister, George Eustice. We also had lengthy discussions with a number of the Scottish Conservative MPs from Westminster, as well as various influential MSPs, on our approach towards the Agriculture Bill. We met with the Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, and we also made new connections with advisors to the Prime Minister for the first time, which could prove invaluable.

This was alongside being in the room for keynote speeches from top government ministers and attending a vast array of fringe events to feed in to policy discussions. In all, it was a very busy three days – but time that was very well spent.

As a lobbying organisation, NFU Scotland cannot just speak to one political quarter. So the President, Andrew McCornick and I will do it all over again on Monday (8 October) when we return to the SNP’s gathering in Glasgow to get in front of the most important decision-makers in Scotland.

Throughout the Autumn, we will also continue with a busy programme of meetings with other political parties in Westminster and in Holyrood as MPs and MSPs debate the issues impacting NFU Scotland members.

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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