SCOTTISH countryside supremo Richard Lochhead set out his vision for the country’s rural economy when he paid a visit to the Borders last week.
The Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment said that the region had a big role to play in boosting Scotland’s prosperity through the high quality of its agricultural products.
Mr Lochhead was speaking at a packed event organised by the Scottish Borders Chamber of Commerce (SBCC) at the Cardrona Hotel, near Peebles.
He said that if Scotland voted for independence in the 2014 referendum, farmers and the local rural economy could win a better deal through a fairer settlement from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.
At present, he told his audience, Scotland was towards the bottom of the payments pile when it came to CAP payments, losing out by hundreds of millions of pounds because the UK government didn’t negotiate properly on our behalf.
Mr Lochhead added that the atmosphere leading up to next year’s referendum would be “electric” and said that with a yes vote, the opportunities for rural Scotland would be “limitless”.
He continued: “We want your ideas and input as a business community as to what we could do.”
Rural issues important to the Borders such as broadband, mobile phone reception, the renewable energy grid and the price of fuel were all currently regulated by Westminster, he said, but would be dealt with by a Scottish government after independence.
The evening was chaired by Jack Clark, the outgoing managing director of Borders auctioneers John Swan, who is also a director of SBCC. At the end of the event, the Cabinet Secretary presented him with a gift on behalf of the chamber.
Mr Clark said: “It was fantastic that Richard Lochhead could find the time to come and talk to us - especially since he is currently spending much of his time dealing with the country’s horsemeat scandal.
“He gave a thoughtful and interesting address in which he reflected the views of the Borders rural community that the horsemeat issue actually offers us an opportunity.
“It has made consumers extremely cynical about cheap imported foreign food, but at the same time they are putting their trust back in the sort of high quality Scottish meat we produce here in the Borders region and elsewhere in Scotland.”
Mr Clark added: “We are proud of our tradition of producing sustainable, premium quality meat, and this provides us with an extra opportunity to market it.”
James Aitken, convener of the SBCC, said: “This was another highly successful event which once again proves that we are helping to set the agenda when it comes to the big business, social and political issues facing the Scottish Borders.
“It’s fantastic that we are able to attract speakers of the calibre of Richard Lochhead and helps to explain why our membership is vibrant and growing.”
Future events which are planned by the chamber include a debate on boosting tourism in the Scottish Borders and a high-profile conference on local media, including the controversial issue of the region receiving its ITV coverage from Gateshead instead of Scotland.