CLA concern at effects of Scottish yes vote on Northern farmers

Douglas Chalmers of the CLA North hits out at the lack of information about how a Scottish yes vote will affect Northern farmers.

A rural farming scene
A rural farming scene

As the Scottish independence poll approaches, those outside Scotland may feel that with no vote they can only wait for the outcome.

But the CLA in the North is increasingly concerned that farms and rural businesses in the region may be affected by a yes vote, and that they don’t have enough information to decide if they will be better or worse off.

Firstly, I should declare an interest. I am a Scot living in the North of England. But, as an ex-pat, I have no vote and my priorities are the landowners, farmers and businesses in the rural North.

One of the many strengths of the economies of northern England and southern Scotland is the integration between the two. In total, 30,000 people cross the border every day to go to work. The road and rail connections as are among our busiest and the postal, telephone and internet services are hyperactive.

But it’s not just the major roads that hum with activity. Along the entire border, traffic, including tractors, nips backwards and forwards across a line they will hardly ever think about, often many times a day. Businesses trade on either side, and there are even farms with land in both countries.

The public debate appears full of “big picture” issues. Currency and defence are important, but businesses, including farms, on both sides of the border need to know what the implications of independence will be for them.

Will ordering or invoicing be more complicated? What will happen to costs? How much more paperwork will be generated? Will drivers have different regulations on different parts of one route? On farms straddling the border, will livestock have free movement from one end to the other? Will anything simply no longer be allowed?

I’ve heard people compare our situation to that of the border between Northern and Southern Ireland, but I’m not convinced this comparison is applicable. Those countries are both in the EU and in the UK and Ireland Common Travel Area. If Scotland leaves the UK and the EU, then the free movement of people and goods we take for granted may be gone.

So what needs to be done? First and foremost, the governments on both sides of the border need to make a concerted effort to ensure all of the information about devolution and how it will affect both countries is out there and easily accessible by the public.

Currently we buy and sell goods and services freely in a highly-efficient single market. We need to know if trading with an independent Scotland means it would no longer be viable because of extra cost or hassle that it is no longer viable.

I have spent many hours researching this question and have struggled to find a definitive answer, which is simply not good enough in the run-up to a vote of this magnitude.

It seems obvious to me that trade with a devolved Scotland will not be as straightforward as it is now and, if this is the case, we need to know the full extent of the changes.

It is only then, armed with hard facts and figures, that farmers and rural businesses in England will be able to lobby their Scottish suppliers and customers to make sure that they are aware of the consequences of their vote on September 18.

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