In the beautiful spring weather of last week the Shetland countryside looked idyllic: newborn lambs gambolling in the sunshine; calves taking their first steps out of the byres; pastures turning green again after a mild winter; a prospect to delight the eyes of visitors and locals alike.
What a pity about that dirty great Brexit cloud hanging over Shetland’s farmers and crofters. On average, about half their income comes from public subsidies designed to secure the nation’s food supply while protecting our countryside and its way of life.
Will this vital agricultural support continue, if and when the UK leaves the European Union? Tory ministers promise it will, but they don’t say how.
Already, some £160 million of European funds earmarked for Scottish farmers and crofters have been snatched by Michael Gove for use south of the border. It’s a brave soul indeed who believes any promise from the Conservative and Unionist Party, particularly in its current chaotic state.
Making things even worse is the shambles in continuing Westminster over the terms of Britain’s departure from Europe. How will this uncertainty affect the markets for those Shetland lambs and calves in six months’ time?
How can anyone run a farm or croft business not knowing how much subsidy they’ll receive or what margin will be left, if any, when import tariffs depress prices at the marts, on top of transport costs that already make some holdings uneconomic?
It beggars belief that the Tory Party, which once claimed to be the party of business and financial competence, should have engineered this calamity, or that the Labour Party – which only three years ago campaigned in the 2016 referendum to remain in the EU and reform it – should now be the accomplice of charlatans, chancers and conspiracy theorists yearning for the lost glories of the British Empire.
All the proposed Brexit deals are bad news for Shetland’s farmers and crofters. There is no good Brexit for them. It can still be stopped but in the Northern Isles only the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party oppose it.
And, because the Lib Dems have such a small following in the rest of Scotland, the reality is that only the SNP has any chance of sending enough Scottish MEPs to Strasbourg to speak for our rural communities.
That’s why there may be a big tactical vote for the SNP here on 23 May, some of it from people who never dreamed they’d support ‘the Nats’ but will do so this time because nothing else makes sense.
SNP Councillor for Shetland South
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