Talking point: Rural independence

Written by on 3 July 2013

Contrary to how it often appears, the key to next year’s independence referendum may be somewhere outside the Holyrood bubble.

While debate on Scotland’s future has still not completely moved past a political back-and-forth over issues of currency, EU membership or defence, other pressing matters for people, whether they plan to be part of a newly-independent Scotland or continue as part of the UK, have not yet beome mainstream.

‘Rural Scotland’ equates to 94 per cent of the country’s land mass, home to nearly one million people – about one fifth of the population. On top of that, the output of those rural industries so heavily relied upon is worth billions to the Scottish economy, from food and drink to forestry.

The , running since 1822, clearly demonstrates the potential power and influence of rural Scotland. More than 170,000 visited this year, up 9,500 on 2012 and both Yes and No camps are keen to get their message out.

Speaking at the Scottish Government’s own pavilion at the event, Richard Lochhead, Environment Secretary since 2007, set out his central message that Scotland’s priorities are not the UK’s.

While the Westminster Coalition Government also sings the praises of farming and fisheries on which rural communities rely, he claimed that on important issues – direct support for agriculture, tackling high fuel prices, or a better share of EU farming, for example, the Union was not pushing Scottish interests.

Scotland, he said, could have been €1bn better off in payments between 2015 and 2020 if it had been independent when the last Common Agricultural Policy was hammered out – due to a ruling that no member state would receive less than €196 per hectare in direct payments.

By contrast, Rural Better Together, which is to be chaired by Lib Dem MEP George Lyon and was launched later the same day, said the Union enabled Scotland’s interests to be better represented at the top table in Europe.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the two alternative pictures was the response from the farming communities they had come to address.

During Lochhead’s speech particularly, aside from the one farmer who proudly stated his SNP membership and support for independence, it wasn’t clear what side of the debate, if any, they fell on.

What was clear is that they had a lot of questions on what, good or bad, independence could mean for their future.

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