Features News

September 17, 2014 at 8:14 pm

Why Farmers are Voting for an Independent Scotland

On Thursday, September 18, Scotland will vote on whether it should remain part of the United Kingdom or become an independent country once again. The independence movement is so strong that media outlets are already imagining what the iconic Union Jack flag would look like without Scotland’s blue color contribution.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

There are a lot of decisions on the horizon if Scotland secedes from the United Kingdom. What will their currency look like? What will happen to Scottish nationals when they’re no longer carrying a UK passport? The questions go so deep as to wonder whether the referendum could affect food prices.

Many groups have been championing Scottish independence since the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party in 1934. The discovery of oil in the North Sea during the 1970s further increased the country’s ability and drive to separate. A 1997 vote created a devolved Scottish Parliament – a secondary form of government to the central United Kingdom. Now Scotland is ready to make a simple Yes or No decision that will decide their future once and for all.

Credit: UK Electoral Commission

Credit: UK Electoral Commission

One of the most interesting groups to support the Yes Scotland movement are Scottish farmers. It should be obvious that in occupation alone, farmers have a connection to their land. Though many Scottish citizens might find work that brings them in close contact with the UK – Scottish farmers are always working native soil. Farming For Yes is a farmer-led, grassroots campaign to promote Scottish independence. Their members represent all types of Scotland’s farmers from the smallest crofter to large landholder of various political persuasions.

Their website is filled with personal stories of farming, nationality, and why an independent Scotland is in their best business interests. Farmer Jim Fairlie writes, “I want to live in a Scotland where my ambition for me, my family, my community and my country, are matched by my Government. ” He references a story told by Richard Lochhead, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, who brought a delegate of Scottish farmers to Tokyo only to be told by the British consulate there that getting Scottish beef into Japan “wasn’t a priority.” Fairlie adds, “Every Westminster government has tried to negotiate a total removal of any direct support to farmers; it has been only the EU that has forced them to continue supporting agriculture.” Though it’s unlikely that every farmer in Scotland reflects Fairlie’s opinions, there are certainly many like him.

Christian Allard, MSP, is an advocate of the Scottish fishing industry. He complains, “Scotland receives just 41 per cent of the European Fisheries Fund allocation to the UK, despite having a far higher share of both the UK sea fishery and aquaculture sectors.” As part of the United Kingdom, Scotland receives only a share of the UK fishing quota. Both Allard and Lochhead assert that an independent Scotland would prioritize fishermen whether through increased quotas or just further support.

Farming For Yes’s website contains a highly informative FAQ covering the major areas affected by Scottish independence. Members of Farming for Yes hope that independence would allot them a greater share of the European Union’s Common Agriculture Policy. Currently, Scotland receives the third lowest payment per hectare, above only Estonia and Latvia. However, an opposing group to Farming for Yes mentions that CAP payments are based on “historic production, not area.” It’s in situations like this that different perspectives become the difference between a vote for Yes or No. Nitpicking over the fairness of CAP payments is the half-empty-glass metaphor at its finest. Only, in this scenario, seeing your glass as half-empty will result in the overhaul of a 300-year-old entire governmental system.

According to the website Agriculturefarming is the Scottish rural economy’s second largest industry. In USD, the annual value of Scottish farming is $3,726,000. This is a large interest to protect and, as always, there are multiple perspectives on the best outcome for rural Scotland.

One major worry is that trade could be stifled – at least temporarily – should Scotland gain independence. In a debate between the two sides, Better Together representative George Lyon said, “Turning ourselves into foreign exporters in 90% of our home market is sheer folly.” He worried that it could, in particular, affect the premium price Scottish farmers enjoyed on beef sales in the UK.

It is clear that a change to an independent Scotland would have a large effect on the nation’s farmers – whether for better or worse. As it so often happens, it’s possible that both sides are right. Renegotiating trade agreements as an independent nation wouldn’t happen overnight and could briefly put a damper in Scottish exports. On the other hand, it’s hard not to assume that a uniquely Scottish government wouldn’t be better suited to listening to their own farmers – they’re the only farmers who would count.

Regardless of the outcome, Scotland has already come a long way in forming governments that can cater to their nation’s interests. The campaign for independence is so strong that it’s unlikely the Scottish people – or farmers – will sit quietly when things don’t go their way in the future.

-Tove K. Danovich