It is increasingly apparent from my meetings with farmers and agricultural workers that they feel more distant and excluded from policy decisions than ever before. It is now a wide-held belief among rural communities that government always prioritises urban communities and does not listen or consult with those living outside of the central belt.
Devolution was overwhelmingly supported by the people of Scotland under the assumption that decision-making would be brought closer to home. But we are continually seeing power hoarded centrally in Edinburgh.
The Scottish Conservatives listen to the voices of rural Scotland, and we understand the real issues facing farmers. My colleague and rural spokesperson, Racheal Hamilton, launched a ten-point document advising the Scottish Government how they can revitalise Scottish farming following rigorous and extensive discussion with those in the sector that know best.
Reinvigorating rural communities must first start by reinstating the £46m of ring-fenced funding axed from the rural budget with immediate effect. Likewise, we must give farmers greater clarity on the Rural Support Plan which they are being asked to support but which has so far been completely devoid of detail.
The Scottish Conservatives are proposing a Gene-Editing Bill which would allow farmers to harness this technology which could enhance our food production. Currently the SNP/Green government refuses to embrace the potential of gene-editing which could be such a positive step in reaching net zero and achieving our climate targets. We also believe the government should publish a public sector food mile analysis so we can properly understand the supply chain and procurement issues in the food industry. Proper investment is required to ensure food produced locally can also be processed locally.
Storm Babet showed how unprepared some of our rural communities were to adverse weather and therefore we are calling on the SNP to introduce a regional catchment management approach to mitigate future flood risks and provide the resources needed to bolster local flood defences.
Above all, however, the agricultural sector just wants to be heard. The Scottish Government has imposed excessive and unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy on farmers. Similarly, when it comes to local decision making we are not seeing any balance at all and farmers are not even being consulted on major decisions that affect their livelihoods regarding issues such as National Parks and beaver reintroduction.
The biggest obstruction to repairing the relationship between government and farming is the Greens who do not understand, nor care about, rural life and livelihoods. The sooner the deeply unpopular Bute House Agreement is ditched, the more quickly we can mend this important relationship with those farmers who work so hard each day to provide us all with high-quality and sustainable food produce.