with Alex Salmond, First Minister and MSP for Aberdeenshire East

CROWDS FLOCK TO SUNNY NEW DEER SHOW

With the sun beating down on the North-east last weekend, I was lucky enough to spend Saturday enjoying the New Deer show – one of the absolute highlights of the constituency calendar. The event ranks amongst Scotland’s premier agricultural shows and this year drew crowds in excess of 10,000.

Agriculture has always been a significant part of Aberdeenshire’s heritage and, with a food and drink sector worth £5 billion to the Scottish economy, its importance in our nation’s economic future is beyond doubt.

I had the opportunity to meet with a number of NFU Scotland members regarding important local issues, Scottish Government policy and, crucially, how our farming sector can seek to benefit from a Yes vote in next year’s referendum on Scottish independence.

The needs of Scotland’s farming, fishing and food industries are rarely a priority for UK governments – either at Westminster or at the European negotiating table. Only a Yes vote in 2014 will give Scotland a seat at the top table, to negotiate the best settlement which best suits Scottish producers. The risks posed to Scotland by the Tories’ proposed ‘In-Out’ referendum on EU membership could have serious consequences – denying our farmers easy access to European markets or, in other words, creating a barrier to accessing some 500 million consumers. Scotland will negotiate independence from within the EU, and with this we will retain the benefits of funding for our farming sector. By contrast, the position of the Westminster government is to end direct support for Scottish agriculture.

FOOD AND DRINK BOOSTS SCOTTISH EXPORTS

Scotland’s food and drink sector is currently in rude health, as latest figures reveal sales have risen by 3.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2013. This marked rise has contributed to the overall growth in Scottish manufactured exports – up 2.5 per cent for the quarter.

This is extremely positive news for Scotland’s economy, particularly here in the North East where food and drink production is big business.

‘Scotland the brand’ continues to sell well across the globe, and certainly the high standards attained by North East producers across a range of products plays a major part in this.