Westminster notes: Farming so important to our local economy

Berwickshire is one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. But that rolling, pastoral landscape isn’t just a tourist attraction - far from it.

Farming is one of our most important industries. It supports our local economy, helps create jobs and plays a major part in contributing to our fantastic Borders food and drink sector.

Unfortunately, it is also operating with one hand tied behind its back. All farming communities, right across Europe, need some form of financial support in order to make a living and to provide a stable, safe and affordable source of food for consumers. So cash help for our rural sector benefits each and every one of us.

Indeed, providing this support through the Common Agricultural Policy is one of the EU’s main functions. Unfortunately, here in Berwickshire and Scotland, it doesn’t support our vital rural economy nearly as much as it should.

The problem isn’t the EU - it’s the Tory government in London. Scotland can’t negotiate directly with Brussels: it has to rely on Westminster to do it. But the UK Government sells us short. Support from the CAP is divided into two parts, Pillar 1 and Pillar 2, and on both, we receive some of the lowest payments in Europe.

But that’s not the only problem.

Because of these low payments, the EU provided a substantial extra payment, called a convergence uplift, of €230 million, intended for Scotland.

And what have the Tories done with this cash? They’ve kept it to give away right across the UK.

This is shameful behaviour, directly depriving Borders farmers of money they need. It’s an issue which I raised directly with ministers in the Commons last week, and I’ll continue to push until we get a satisfactory settlement to this modern day highway robbery.

The NFU Scotland, which does a fantastic job representing our farming communities, points out that arable producers here in Berwickshire should have access to similar levels of support to those given to our friends and neighbours just across the border in Northumberland. I couldn’t agree more.

This isn’t a party political matter, either. It’s not just the SNP which supports the uplift money intended for us actually coming to Scotland: there was cross party support for it at Holyrood last year.

If Scotland had been given 100 per cent of the money, that would have meant an extra €11 million last year, rising to an additional €64 million in 2019. That’s enough financial support to make a real difference to our rural economy.

The UK Government has indicated that these payments will be reviewed next year, but that’s not enough. We need a firm, cast iron commitment that this will happen and that the money will be redirected to Scotland.

The simple truth is that it belongs to our farming communities and they should have had it in the first place.

I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that happens. It’s nothing less than our brilliant rural sector deserves.