First Minister, Humza Yousaf’s speech to the NFU Scotland’s Spring Conference today has produced a furious backlash from opposition MSP’s concerned about the Scottish Government’s treatment of the farming industry. Opposition MSP’s are determined to bring the Scottish Government to account for its inadequate handling of farming interests. Although the First Minister has pledged to return the missing funds the damage suffered by the farming industry is causing serious alarm. The mounting criticism comes at a time the Scottish Government is facing difficult budget challenges. The Scottish Daily Express has led the charge in exposing the scale of the damage in its budget expose published today.
Scottish Conservative shadow rural affairs secretary Rachael Hamilton MSP said: “Humza Yousaf used his so-called ‘announcement’, that farmers are to receive similar subsidies to what they are receiving now, as a way of painting over the cracks that his SNP Government are causing the industry.”
She continued, “He had the perfect opportunity during his speech to announce the return of the remaining £46 million to the Scottish agriculture budget. Instead, Humza Yousaf tried to pull the wool over the eyes of farmers and crofters by refusing to give a timescale because he shamefully sees the industry as an easy target. As he always does, Humza Yousaf made his speech into a constitutional blame-game to detract away from his own, constant failures.”
She added, “Rather than cutting vital support to the sector, Humza Yousaf must return the full amount back to the agriculture budget for the sake of farmers and crofters facing a cliff edge at the hands of the SNP-Green government.”
This impassioned criticism follows outrage expressed in the Scottish Parliament in December following a drastic cut of £28 million from the farming budget. At that time, Rachael Hamilton criticised the Scottish Government, and claimed they had abandoned farming interests as evidenced by the £28 Million budget cut and the additional missing £61 million allocated to the Scottish Government from Westminster to support farming in Scotland. Following a question from Rachael Hamilton about the missing funds, Michael Marra, Labour MSP said, “In this budget the SNP-Green Government is asking Scots to pay more for less and using dodgy accounting to hide swingeing cuts.” He was joined in his criticism by Willie Rennie, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP, who demanded to know on behalf of farmers when the £28 million cut and indeed the further missing £61 million would be restored.
Following today’s speech Scottish Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Ed Mountain, himself a farmer, said: “Farmers… will rightly have been left feeling completely underwhelmed by Humza Yousaf’s hapless speech that failed to address a range of key issues concerning the industry.
“We know farmers are custodians of the countryside and suggestions from Humza Yousaf that they are inefficient shows how out of touch he and his SNP Government are.
“Slashing the agriculture budget has come at the worst possible time, with the sector facing a litany of challenges. He went on to say that this First Minister has relegated farming to the bottom of his priority list.
There was some measure of comfort for farmers in the First Minister’s speech when he pledged to return the £61 million at the centre of the row. He said, “I will emphasise it as much as I can – the full £61 million will absolutely be returned to the portfolio. It will be fully returned to support you and your members as part of future budgets. I can’t deny or pretend that we’re not facing the most difficult financial constraints we’ve ever had to deal with. People think that we take these decisions lightly, but we absolutely don’t.”
Taking account of the First Minister’s pledge and the challenges of the interim period (however long that may be) until the funds are returned, and noting how pointed and cutting the opposition criticism may be, neither measure does little to help the hard pressed Scottish farming industry at a time when the budget cuts and missing funds are sorely needed by an industry faced with serious economic challenges. It’s not difficult to understand that farmers feel aggrieved knowing the monies were originally allocated for distribution to Scottish farmers by the UK Government.