Post-Brexit discussions in London

Published Thursday, 2nd August 2018 in Research news

Post-Brexit discussions in London
The SRUC delegation (front row) of Davy McCracken, Steven Thomson, Wayne Powell and Jane Atterton with (back row) MPs Bill Grant, Luke Graham and Colin Clark and Lord Duncan of Springbank

Staff from SRUC's Rural Policy Centre recently spent a day in London talking to politicians and policy makers about post-Brexit challenges in Scotand.

The Scottish Government will continue to be responsible for agricultural, environmental and rural development decision-making following Brexit. There is, however, the likelihood of some common UK frameworks being established around these policy areas. It is therefore important that policy-makers and politicians in London are aware of the challenges - and opportunities - facing agriculture, the environment and rural communities in Scotland, especially where these may differ from the rest of the UK.

To this end, Jane Atterton, Davy McCracken, Steven Thomson, together with Principal and Chief Executive Wayne Powell, first visited the House of Lords, hosted by Lord Duncan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Scottish Office, where they provided a briefing to a number of members of both Houses of Parliament. This was followed by a full afternoon of discussions with senior policy officials within Defra.

Unique

At both meetings, Wayne Powell provided an introduction to the rationale behind SRUC's presence in London. Steven Thomson, Senior Agricultural Economist, then went on to highlight some of the key characteristics of Scottish agriculture and how policy support for the sector through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is unique from other parts of the UK. In particular, Steven emphasised that Scottish agricultural policy has a strong emphasis on supporting food production and farm business viability (and thereby the wider agri-food supply chain both upstream and downstream) and maintaining activity, and therefore people, in areas affected by peripherality and biophysical constraints.

Davy McCracken, Head of SRUC's Hill & Mountain Research Centre, followed up by highlighting where a number of land-based environmental issues – such as a desire for woodland expansion, the restoration of peatlands, and the need appropriate management in the uplands to help mitigate flooding downstream – differ either in type or scale in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK. He emphasised that all these environmental aspirations require active management on the ground. There is therefore a need to carefully consider what type of support mechanisms may be most appropriate to maintain active populations in rural areas that are capable of ensuring multiple agricultural, forestry and environmental benefits from land management systems.

Challenges

Finally, Jane Atterton, Head of SRUC's Rural Policy Centre, highlighted the characteristics of Scotland’s rural communities and some of the key opportunities and challenges they are facing. In particular, she emphasised that rural areas make up 98 per cent of the land mass of Scotland but only contain 18 per cent of the population, with much of that rural population being dispersed across a large land area, including many islands. This brings particular challenges in terms of transport time and cost, and delivering basic services.

She said: "Policies to support rural development therefore need to be place-based - rather than sector-based. They also need to positively draw on the assets and knowledge of a local area, combined with external resources - including expertise and money - where appropriate. A cross-cutting approach will be required, recognising the interplay of land-based and other economic activities, environmental concerns and the sustainability of communities in integrated ways."

This is expected to be the first of a number of visits to London where SRUC staff will be helping raise awareness of Scottish specific issues with those parliamentarians and policy-makers who will be developing post-Brexit policies over the next few months.

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