Scottish independence: Farmers 'would get better deal' with Yes vote
Scotland would get a better deal for farmers in the European Union if it was independent, it has been argued.
Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said Scotland had the lowest direct farm payments of any EU country.
The comments came ahead of the independence referendum, on 18 September.
The UK government said Scotland would lose more than it gained from the EU if there was a "Yes" vote in the referendum.
Mr Lochhead, who was speaking at the annual conference of the National Farmers Union in Scotland, said Scottish farmers would lose out on one billion euros from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) over the next seven years, as part of the UK.
He said independence would lift Scotland from "the bottom of the funding tables, to a seat at the top table" for the next round of CAP negotiations.
Farm funding: The claims
The Scottish government says that, if the nation had been independent when the latest Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget was being negotiated, Scotland would have benefitted from a principle that, by 2020, no member state would get less than an average of 196 euros per hectare.
This would have meant, say SNP ministers, an extra one billion euros for Scotland, between 2014-20.
The Scottish government adds that, as an independent member of the EU, Scotland could negotiate its own, fairer deal for agricultural development.
The UK government argues that, because EU budget ceilings have been agreed to 2020, any CAP receipts increase would come at the expense of other member states, all of which would need to agree to Scottish accession.
Westminster ministers also say there is a risk that an independent Scottish state would be required to "phase in" receipts, in line with recent accessions.
They say there is a scenario where CAP receipts increase by 950 million euros under independence - and another where they fall by 1.2 billion.
Mr Lochhead said: "Instead of having UK ministers negotiate on Scotland's behalf - UK ministers who want to eventually see an end to direct farm payments - Scotland can negotiate on her own behalf at the crucial EU negotiations that affect our vital farming industry and the wider Scottish economy.
"Because Scotland is not yet independent, our farmers are going to lose out on one billion euros of direct payments and hundreds of millions of euros of rural development funding.
"To add insult to injury, the payments which have come to the UK, purely as a result of Scotland's existing low per hectare payment, have been taken away from Scotland's farmers despite strong cross-party and industry support for these monies to stay in Scotland."
Addressing the conference, in St Andrews, on Monday for the UK government, Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael argued that independence would put Scotland's position in the EU - and its future CAP payments - in doubt.
He said: "The Scottish government claims that Scotland would automatically be entitled to a windfall in CAP funding.
"This bold claim ignores facts and political reality.
"Ask yourself this: why would other member states that have had to phase in Common Agricultural Policy receipts over ten years agree to an independent Scotland automatically receiving full payments from day one?
"Not just that but, according to the Scottish government, reopening the CAP deal and agreeing to give Scottish farmers increased payments too.
"That would mean newly joined countries like Croatia accepting a deal that was never offered to them or their farmers."
The UK government has accepted that, in a best-case scenario, Scotland might have secured a bigger share of farm payments if it had been independent.
But it calculated the gain would have been dwarfed by the loss of the UK rebate from EU budget contributions.
The Scottish government believes it could retain a share of the rebate on becoming a full member of the EU.
Mr Lochhead also used his speech to announce the creation of a new Scottish Dairy Bureau, giving farmers in the sector access to training and information.
He said a full-time manager would run the body, which will open in April with £50,000 in funding.
In the referendum, voters in Scotland will be asked the "Yes/No" question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"