Four leading figures in Scottish farming joined forces today [wed] to declare their support for a YES vote on September 18.
John Ross, Jim Walker, John Kinnaird and John Cameron are all Past Presidents of the National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS).
All four are convinced that the safety and security of the Scottish farming industry is better served under an independent Scottish government than by a remote, out-of-touch and unsupportive Westminster.
They gathered at Yes Scotland HQ in Glasgow to urge Scotland’s 65,000 farmers, crofters and growers – as well as the 250,000 others who depend of agriculture for their living - to follow their lead and vote Yes on Referendum Day.
John Ross, a livestock farmer for 50 years and president of NFUS from 1990 to 1996, said: ‘Farming and rural affairs need to be at the forefront of all future Scottish government thinking – and being fully committed members of the European Union is an essential part of that policy.
‘An independent Scotland is the only way that this can be secured. A No vote will mean years of uncertainty about a UK government’s EU membership and commitment and this will have very serious consequences for the future of Scottish farming.’
Dr John Cameron, who became NFUS first long-term president in 1978 at the age of 39, has represented Scottish agriculture – particularly the livestock sector in many parts of the world – said: ‘Having worked in this industry all my life, I have come to the very firm conclusion that the interests of Scottish agriculture and rural Scotland will be best served by having an independent Scottish Parliament and an independent place as of right at the EU Agricultural Council.
‘The recent decision by the British Minister at DEFRA to distribute to the whole of the UK the Convergence Fund from the EU – which was granted to lift the level of Single Farm Payment in Scotland to the UK average – was completely unjustified and against the legitimate expectations of Scottish farmers.
‘My experience is that the development of agriculture policy has been handled with much better understanding between the industry and the Scottish Government and that this position will only be strengthened with independence.'
Jim Walker, who was NFU Scotland president from 1998 to 2003, said: ‘Food is a key strength of the Scottish economy, especially its rural areas, but remaining in the UK is now a very real risk for our food and farming businesses.
‘The EU is important to the food and farming sector. It provides us with markets and is a source of grants and support. If, as seems increasingly likely, the UK leaves the EU after a promised in-out referendum, the funding that currently comes from Brussels will be left with HM Treasury and Scotland will be much more dependent on its decisions. Worryingly, we know from the decisions the Treasury has consistently taken over the last 20 years, irrespective of the party in power, it will prioritise cutting expenditure on food, farming and rural development rather than encouraging investment. That has been the pattern for years and won’t change now.
‘Independence, on the other hand, will allow us to really back our food and farming sector, set our own priorities and sit at the European negotiating table, no longer affected by the UK Treasury indifference. It will also give our food business the kind of export support to guild their businesses that our counterparts in countries with a similar population, like Ireland and New Zealand, take for granted. Like Ireland, we will continue to sell to England but we will also have our own embassies throughout the world giving priority to promoting Scottish products so that we can build and grow new markets.’
John Kinnaird, who farms in East Lothian and was NFUS president from 2003 to 2007, said: ‘I am voting Yes because I believe this is the next logical process after devolution. Lines of communication with government are much quicker and more focussed.
‘The current UK administration and other political parties lack focus, understanding and leadership on many issues, including EU membership.
‘I am deeply concerned of a backlash against Scotland from Westminster if the vote is No. OnSeptember 18 I am not voting for a political party – I’m voting for independence.’
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: ‘The decision by four of Scotland's most respected farming leaders to declare for a Yes vote is highly significant and sends a powerful message to not only rural Scotland but the whole nation.
‘These four former NFU presidents are big hitters with a wealth of experience in dealing with UK Governments and Ministers including Prime Ministers in recent decades. They care deeply about the future of their industry and the fact they have reached the conclusion that our key agriculture and food sectors will be better safeguarded and promoted with independence is a momentous moment in the referendum campaign.
‘These men know the industry inside out, and know that Westminster has failed Scottish farming time and again. With the powers of independence Scotland, farming and food will always be a priority with a direct voice in the crucial farming talks in Europe to help secure a far better deal for our food producers and rural communities.’
John Ross CBE, from Portpatrick, Dumfries and Galloway, has been a livestock farmer for more than half a century. He was NFU Scotland President between 1990 and 1996 and chairman of the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association from 1997 to 2000. Between 2002 and 2012, he was chairman of Mordeun Animal Diseases Research Institute and Foundation.
Dr John Cameron CBE, who farms at Balbuthie, near Elie, Fife, became NFU Scotland’s first long-term president in 1978. During his term, the union was able to take an active long-term role in the affairs of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). He was a member of the agricultural praesidium in Brussels for five years and was first chairman of the EEC Sheepmeat Committee. He is a past chairman of the QMS Standard Setting Committee for cattle and sheep and in 2015 he was made a Fellow of the Scottish Agricultural College.
Jim Walker, who graduated in accountancy from Edinburgh University, took over the family farm in the 1980s and now rears beef cattle and sheep on 3,500 acres at Drumbuie and Tower Farms in the Nith Valley near Sanquhar. He was Chairman of Quality Meat Scotland from 2003 until 2005 following five years as President of NFU Scotland. He acted as a consultant to Robert Wiseman Dairies the East Kilbride based liquid milk processor from 2003 until 2008. He joined Argent Energy in 2003 as Vice-Chairman, becoming Operations Director in 2005 and Managing Director in 2008.
John Kinnaird was Vice President of NFU Scotland from 2000 until 2003 and president from 2003 until 2007. He chaired the Scottish Government Review of Veterinary Surveillance, is a director of the Morden Research Institute and a Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Societies. He is a partner in a 600 acre farm in East Lothian.