For farmers Weekly December 2013
If you had asked me a year ago what convergence uplift was then I would probably have guessed it was a new design for a bra by Playtex. The concept, I imagined, would be that after pulling some strings a result would be produced that would make everyone’s eyes pop out in amazement.
I would have been almost right. But, that other master of convergence uplifting, Owen Paterson, by deciding to give everyone in the UK a bit of a lift has failed to bring anything closer together. In fact, farmers in Scotland now feel more remote than ever from the rest of the UK.
An online poll carried out by a Scottish farming newspaper recently reported that 74% of respondents were more likely to vote Yes in the independence referendum after Defra’s decision to not allocate all of the extra funds to Scotland.
The EU has already decided that support to farming will be measured by dividing the numbers of euros allocated to a country by the numbers of hectares it has. You would have to say that if ‘keep it simple’ is your mantra for EU farm support then there can be nothing simpler. Over time the countries with poor payments per hectare will receive convergence uplift funding to bring them closer to the EU average.
Based on this principle Scotland’s farmers are right at the bottom of the heap in Europe and it would be hard for any sane and reasonable person to argue anything else.
However, Mr Paterson’s new idea where you divide the numbers of euros allocated to a country by the number of farmers it has, miraculously elevates Scotland right to the top of the charts. The fact that this concept has trumped the one that was devised by the combined nations in Europe means –in Mr Paterson’s view at least – it must be a better rule to follow.
It is also rumoured that Mr Paterson had found convincing evidence that if you multiply the euro support for a country by the number of red-headed farmers it has called Angus then an even more spectacular result is produced. However, Spain and Portugal faired very poorly using this formula and Luxembourg was receiving no farm support at all so this line of thought had to be ditched at the last minute.
Ironically, Mr Paterson’s earnest plea to the European Parliament, some time ago, that larger farms should not be discriminated against, doesn’t chime very well with his decision either. The argument to justify not allocating all of the cash to Scotland was based on the premise that we have, on average, the biggest farm businesses in the UK. If only we had more pony-paddock farmers then we could lose the stigma of being a nation of full time farmers.
Looking at it from the other side, I’m sure that if Mr Paterson had decided to divert all of the divergence uplift cash to Scotland then every English, Irish and Welsh leader worth his salt would have been continuing to demand a better deal for their farmers. I would have thought it strange if they didn’t.
However, some of our noted Scottish leaders have not taken up the fight against the decision. The Secretary of State for Scotland, Alistair Carmichael; MEP, George Lyon and MSP Alex Ferguson are the most notable. They have all rolled over and started to purr gently about the great deal for Scottish farming while everyone else fights on. When it comes to divergence uplift their lack of support for Scottish farming could be the biggest boob that’s been made so far!