The hard yards put in at party conferences is paying off

The hard yards put in by NFU Scotland in attending major political party conferences are making the difference according to Director of Policy, Jonnie Hall.

Reflecting on NFU Scotland’s attendance at National Conferences in recent weeks, which saw officeholders and staff members from the Union seek to influence political thinking by covering more than 1500 miles of motorway, traveling between Manchester, Liverpool and Aberdeen, Jonnie writes:

“As an organisation whose purpose is all about influence, it was vital that we attended Party Conferences and, in doing so, we utilised every opportunity to underline our key messages on a number of issues important to our members. They are:

  • the need for an increased multiannual, ringfenced funding commitment for agriculture. 
  • the importance of our sector to Scotland in providing and supporting thousands of jobs and supply chain companies across rural communities. 
  • the need for the Scottish Government’s new Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill to deliver for farmers, crofters and production.  

“We met with 24 MPs and MSPs, in addition to their advisers and support staff. Our intent was clear, namely, to raise the points that will really matter to the future prosperity of Scottish agriculture and all that it underpins. 

“We also took full advantage of engaging with the other UK farming unions and stakeholder organisations on key areas of common interest.  

“Party conferences are always intense affairs. Hard on the feet, even harder on the head – a real test of cerebral fitness.  

“In some ways, this year’s party conferences were more intense. Perhaps as a result of changes in party hierarchies which certainly seems to have changed some of the rhetoric at each conference. 

“However, it’s probably down the fact that we’re rapidly approaching a General Election within the next twelve months or so. There can be little doubt that that the two main Westminster parties, Conservatives and Labour, are in full electioneering mode. 

“While that might make it easier to get a more sympathetic hearing, what is beyond doubt is the sheer scale and intensity of outright lobbying that each political party faces at conferences and beyond.  It’s impossible not to be struck by how ‘competitive’ conferences are, as a vast array of interests – commercial, sectoral, territorial and charitable – vie for attention. 

“And NFU Scotland no different. If we want political leaders to act in the interests of Scotland’s farmers and crofters – in power or opposition – then we need to be in front of them with clear, consistent and credible messages. We have to set out what we want and why. And how our asks will deliver for others, whether its government policy goals or the wider interests of businesses and communities that rely on active farming and crofting in some way. 

“Each party conference provides us with unprecedented levels of engagement – and that’s our bread and butter. Despite the incredibly competitive political arena where every interest you can think of is seeking their own political attention, I can say without question that we, NFU Scotland, are recognised, respected and heard. 

“But it can’t just be about party conferences, or our regular and frequent sorties to Holyrood and Westminster. Just as important is what we do locally. We all have MPs and MSPs, the good majority of whom are ready and willing to listen our members. Whether as individuals or through the political engagement meetings we organise through our branch and regional board structures, we can all play a vital role in getting our messages across. 

“The one thing all politicians have in common is an inherent commitment to make a difference – or at least a belief that they can. What few politicians have in common is clarity on what that difference should be! 

“That’s where we - the members, office holders, secretaries and staff of NFU Scotland - can step in. If we put in the hard yards, we’ll make the difference. 

“The is a growing recognition amongst decision-makers that they can’t deliver on all their targets without us.”  

Author: Jonnie Hall

Date Published:

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About The Author

Jonnie Hall

NFU Scotland’s Director of Policy Jonnie Hall has been involved with agricultural and rural policy for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (BSc. Honours in Agricultural Economics and an M.Phil. in agricultural policy research) and Oxford University (MSc. in Agricultural Economics). Following an academic and consultancy career, Jonnie joined what was the Scottish Landowners’ Federation in January 1998, leading their policy work on agriculture and land use issues. Jonnie then joined NFU Scotland in May 2007, and has overall responsibility for the policy work of NFU Scotland as Director of Policy and Member Services. He has served on all key rural and agricultural policy stakeholder groups.

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