Current negotiations over major reforms to the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will produce a favourable outcome for Scotland, according to Stewart Stevenson, Minister for Environment and Climate Change.
Speaking to Holyrood, Stevenson expressed his satisfaction that the UK Government has watered down its original proposal to call for an end to financial support for agriculture, saying such a move “would devastate our industry”.
While Stevenson said the Coalition Government’s position is “not widely supported across Europe,” he said the disagreement “precisely illustrates how much better off [Scotland] would be if we were sitting at the negotiating table in Europe negotiating in our own right” as an independent country.
Responding to recent comments by party colleague Alyn Smith MEP, who had suggested the CAP budget may suffer severe cuts as a result of the ongoing eurozone debt crisis, Stevenson predicted the eventual agreement will be “less damaging than it might have appeared” for Scottish interests.
He continued: “I’m not anticipating that we’re going to meet a catastrophic outcome from CAP, because I think there is a sufficient understanding across Europe of the importance of continuing to support agriculture.” Addressing an imminent consultation ahead of a planned Bill on aquaculture and fisheries, Stevenson said he is confident that the competing interests of the fish farming and sport angling industries will be reconciled and the two sectors can “co-exist”.
“The consultation is precisely about dealing with specific concerns that people have,” he said, adding that improvements in sustainability and hygiene in salmon farming would allow wild stocks to thrive.
Responding to fears that cuts to the budgets of Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency would weaken the two bodies, in particular in relation to protection of endangered species, the minister admitted that “there is less money around so we will of necessity have to do less; but there will be important projects that we want to continue”.
Stevenson said the SNP administration had no plans to revisit its idea of merging the two agencies, explaining that “I don’t think that’s something we’d look at in the early course”.
He added: “They are doing rather different jobs. But, like all bodies across the Scottish Government they have to be more efficient and more focused on the things that matter – and I think both bodies have done exceptionally well on that.”