16 May 2019
Like others, I want to highlight the economic benefit of the food and drink industry to Scotland.
There is no doubt that Brexit looms large over the industry. A no-deal Brexit would be a disaster, and that prospect is causing uncertainty and concern.
Import tariffs would lead to higher prices in the supermarkets and shops, and delays at the border.
Depending on the level of tariffs, they could lead to a shortage of certain kinds of food and—as the cabinet secretary said—put exports at even greater risk.
We must do everything that we can to avoid a no-deal Brexit, and I ask the Scottish Government to do everything in its power to ensure that it does not happen.
The Scottish Government needs to set aside its constitutional wrangles, stop using Brexit as a lever for independence and work for the best interests of the Scottish people.
I read in the papers recently that indyref2 is the First Minister’s top priority.
How sad that, when engulfed by the chaos of leaving a political and economic union, she looks to add to that chaos by leaving another.
If Brexit is bad, independence would be four times worse.
We already see the difficulty that the Scottish Government has in putting in place systems to deliver devolved tax and benefits—those powers are being handed back to Westminster.
How much more difficult would it be to unravel the whole of the United Kingdom?
Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP): I thought that the title of today’s debate was the “Impact of Brexit on Scotland’s Food and Drink”. I also thought that the member would have been able to support the many important businesses and workers in that sector in her constituency, who will be crying out for their voice to be heard in this important debate.
Rhoda : Indeed. Stopping the break-up of the United Kingdom assists the food and drink producers in my constituency.
The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Excuse me, Ms Grant.
I will not have shouting across the benches—it is not acceptable.
Rhoda : I simply ask the Scottish Government—come what may—to use its devolved powers to put us in a better place.
It is simply wrong that, in a rich country, we have people who are going hungry and children who are suffering from diseases and malnutrition that our parents’ generation thought they would never see again.
The Scottish Government has the power to legislate for the right to food.
It is a human right, so let us legislate to enshrine it in our laws.
That would enable us to ensure that no one goes hungry and to hold ourselves and the Scottish Government accountable if they do.
The scourge of malnutrition and obesity could be dealt with and, with that, the unnecessary chronic health problems and pressures that they would otherwise store up for the national health service in the future.
We also need to face up to climate change.
I think that we are agreed that this is a climate emergency.
Although we hear that agriculture is the biggest contributor to climate change, we seldom hear about what it sequesters.
There is no credit for the forestry that our farmers and crofters plant, or for the grasslands that they manage, yet both those activities sequester carbon.
We hear that we should get rid of livestock, sheep and cows.
However, no cognisance is taken of the fact that those animals protect the very grasslands that sequester more carbon than forestry.
Livestock also protect biodiversity, which is already suffering because of a lack of stock in the hills.
As a matter of urgency, the Scottish Government must draw up a new subsidy scheme that helps farmers and crofters to work to sequester more carbon and greenhouse gases. If we are to meet the targets that it has set, we cannot go on with the schemes that we have.
Soil management is good not only for the environment but for production. It is a win-win, helping the climate and helping to make farms more productive.
However, it can be expensive for crofters and farmers.
We therefore need a scheme that recognises that, and helps them with those costs.
It will be too late to meet the interim targets if we delay devising a new scheme until post-2021.
Although there is uncertainty surrounding Brexit, we cannot simply sign up to climate change targets, declare a climate emergency and then do nothing to deal with it.
Our farmers and crofters are seeking leadership from the Scottish Government.
They need a measure that takes account of the greenhouse gases that they produce but also of what they sequester, so that they can move to net zero.
We need subsidy payments to reflect that, along with the other public goods that agriculture provides—public money for public goods.
We need to set a direction of travel that gives producers a clear indication of what they can and cannot expect help with in the future.
We need to seek reassurance about a no-deal Brexit—and yes, staying in the European Union would be the best way to support the status quo.
However, we had a referendum and we need to try to honour the democratic will of the people.
That said, I do not believe that people voted for the chaos that we now face.
We therefore need to find the best outcome possible.
Governments cannot alone overturn the will of the people.
If they seek to do that, they need to go back to the people to give them the final say.
However, we need to consider that a majority may still vote to leave the EU, so we need to have a reasonable deal in place to prevent further crisis before we take that step.
My reasons for campaigning for remain are exactly the same as they are for campaigning to stay in the United Kingdom.
Our food and drink sector and the country as a whole are better served as part of a larger alliance that allows trade and assistance to flow, whether that be the EU or the UK.
A good food nation bill that takes account of environmental issues, farm-to-fork agricultural support, health and hunger, and a comprehensive subsidy scheme would not only give reassurance to the food and drink industry in a time of upheaval but set a direction of travel that we want for the country.
That is the direction in which we must go.
I move amendment S5M-17304.2, to insert at end:
“and remaining part of the UK; believes that, should the UK leave the EU, any Brexit deal must protect the UK’s close relationship with the EU, and further believes that the Scottish Government should bring forward a Good Food Nation Bill that enshrines a right to food, and, in light of the climate emergency, must also, as a matter of urgency, bring forward a new agricultural support scheme that assists farmers and crofters to become carbon-neutral.”