Talking Farming (and campaigning) in the Highland Capital
Inverness is the most northerly city of the Kingdom, the capital of the Highlands and a tourist mecca. I can attest to the latter; almost a quarter of those I canvassed on the High Street haled from far flung quarters.
Inverness is the most northerly city of the Kingdom, the capital of the Highlands and a tourist mecca. I can attest to the latter; almost a quarter of those I canvassed on the High Street haled from far flung quarters. The furthest flung was Madagascar, the family drawn by Scottish castles. They had just descended from Inverness Castle, which dominates the skyline of the town, and were off later to the ruins of Urquhart castle on the banks of Loch Ness.
Aside from its castle, Inverness has another distinguishing feature: its the last city in Scotland to allow political parties to attach posters to lamp posts. Its centre is festooned with colourful corrugated cards. As a tall teenager - I finally made it to 6ft4 - I was often tasked with attaching them to the lamp posts of Perthshire. I take my hat off to the poor soul in Inverness dispatched by the party to ‘get the boards up,’ because they were everywhere. As befits the capital of the Highlands, the name on the Conservative boards: ‘Mountain’
Edward Mountain is a local farmer, and so it didn’t take long for our conversation to turn to farming. My family were soft fruit farmers in Blairgowrie, and in Brussels I chair my party’s working group on the rural economy. Farming has been much in the news of late because the Scottish Governments shambolic attempts to introduce a new payment system has deprived farmers of their financial entitlement. Indeed, 35% of Scottish farmers yet to received a single penny of their Basic Farm Payments. Amongst them is Edward Mountain.
Out in Brussels I have regularly met with Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, a big bluff straight talking Irishman. In the autumn, when I asked him if the Scottish Government could split payments, and offer some monies early, Hogan said, ‘Yes.’ The Scottish Farm Minister Richard Lochhead, said, ‘No.’ Back then Lochhead claimed that all the money would be paid on time. Later I asked the Commissioner if some money could be paid before a full audit was carried out. Hogan said, ‘Yes,’ the money could be paid, with a full audit to follow. Lochhead said, ‘No,’ it wasn’t required. The last I heard from Lochhead was that the problem was in reality due to the complex demands of farmers…
Still, here we are. £178 million has been spent by the Scottish Government on a computer system to process payments. It’s only one problem, it doesn't work. Back when Edward was a land agent, each person processed 6 applications a day. Today its down to 0.6 of an application. It came as no surprise that when I drove from Inverness to Forres, the only posters I saw in the fields were for Edward Mountain and Douglas Ross, the Conservative candidate in neighbouring Moray.
Before I set off for my drive along the Moray coast, Edward Mountain asked me only one thing: be sure to mention that the UK government intends to invest more than £300 million in Inverness as part of a its UK City Deal programme. He placed the emphasis on the ‘UK’. I agreed.