by Alison Mann
Just ten days from the end of IFAJ 2014 Congress, the Scottish people will be making one of the biggest decisions the country has faced – to vote yes or no to independence in the referendum. The big vote will take place on September 18, but debate over the issue is heating up, which was quite apparent during the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland ‘Big Debate’ on March 18.
The debate was heard from Scottish political heavyweights representing each side. The pro team was sported by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Farming minister Richard Lochhead. The fight for an opposing vote was made by Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael and Member of the European Parliament (MEP) George Lyon. Each team was also represented by Scottish farmers. Representing ‘Farming for Yes’ was Perthshire farmer Jim Fairlie and North East farm businessman Peter Chapman debated for the ‘Better Together’ campaign.
The event was held in United Auctions’ Stirling Agricultural Centre with participants congregated on a stage erected in the centre of the mart’s sheep ring. Union President Nigel Miller moderated the event. He kept each eager participant to time, without hindering sparky moments.
And sparky moments there were, with the impressively quick Ms. Sturgeon and Mr. Carmichael generating one of the biggest laughs of the night— when the minister tried to gain points by reminding the audience that First Minister Alex Salmond had written a letter of congratulations to banker Fred Goodwin over the ABN Amro deal that eventually brought down the Royal Bank of Scotland. Ms. Sturgeon fired back that yes, Mr Salmond sent a letter, but the Westminster government had actually knighted him.
These humorous moments aside, each speaker took the importance of the decision Scottish people will make into account as they made their case. Nicola Sturgeon admitted no farming background but said that with Richard Lochhead at her side, farming will surely remain high on the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) agenda. Mr. Lochhead said that only with the same status as other independent countries in Europe would Scotland be able to negotiate the best deal for farmers. Jim Fairlie noted that he was not at the debate to represent Scotland’s current party in power, the SNP, but to persuade farmers to vote ‘yes’ to have the power to make the changes needed to drive the country forward.
Mr. Carmichael, kicked off the debate, saying that a vote to stay in the UK was a vote to stay in one of the most successful unions of nations in the world. MEP Mr. Lyon reminded people that, in the case of a yes vote, there was no going back, and serious consequences. Peter Chapman said independence would hit the bottom line of many farm businesses and urged farmers to vote no.
Chair of the debate Mr. Miller said, “With six months to go until the Independence Referendum, our Big Debate was a very apt milestone in this journey.” Miller also said, “There was good discussions and debate from both sides with some difficult issues covered. Hopefully this event gave not just our members, but people from across the rural community, a better understanding of the opportunities and risks of either independence or a continued union. Hopefully those in attendance were given the right information to help them make an informed decision on September 18.”
The farming press was out in full force at the event, for more detailed coverage of the event see these resources:
The Scottish Farmer