Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Former farmers' union leaders split on referendum

Tractor Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Around 65,000 people in Scotland are directly employed in agriculture

Former presidents of Scotland's farmers' union have adopted opposing views on Scottish independence.

Six former presidents of NFU Scotland have argued that being part of the Union gives Scottish farmers access to the UK market and EU subsidies.

Meanwhile, four former presidents have backed independence, claiming that a "No" vote would mean "uncertainty" over the UK's membership of the EU.

NFU Scotland has taken a neutral stance in the independence referendum debate.

However, the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign and the pro-Union Better Together campaign have both attracted the support of former senior figures.

Currency 'vital'

Former presidents Sir Ian Grant, Jim Stobo, Sandy Inverarity, Sylvester Campbell, George Lyon and Sandy Mole have backed staying in the UK.

Sir Ian said: "On a range of issues such as currency, which is vital to the farming sector, tax and fiscal policy, or securing continued and increasing Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) support, there is no doubt that future economic prospects for farm and food businesses will be better off remaining within the UK.

"The question of the currency we would use is central to the economic case for independence and yet we still have no idea what currency we would be trading in if as looks very likely taxpayers in the rest of the UK say 'no thanks' to a formal currency union.

"Currency is of key importance to farm businesses as the prices they receive and the CAP support they enjoy are determined by the exchange rate and therefore the failure to spell out an alternative leaves them completely in the dark."

The Scottish government has proposed continuing to use sterling in a formal currency union with the rest of the UK if voters back independence, but the UK government and the main Westminster parties have said they would rule out such a deal.

EU 'essential'

Last week, former presidents John Ross, John Cameron, Jim Walker and John Kinnaird declared their support for a "Yes" vote for independence.

Mr Ross 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."

The Conservative party, currently in coalition government with the Liberal Democrats at Westminster, has pledged a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU if it wins the 2015 UK general election.

Most EU agricultural produce is protected in some way by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

According to NFU Scotland, around 65,000 people are directly employed in agriculture in the country, including 8% of the rural workforce, and one in ten jobs across Scotland are dependant on the sector in some way.

Voters in Scotland go to the polls on Thursday, 18 September, when they will be asked the "Yes/No" question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"

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