Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus B MacNeil and Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron have both warned the Scottish Government to heed the concerns of Scotland’s farmers and crofters after details of the proposed payment allocation were revealed.
Mr Cameron spoke after the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, was on the receiving end of bitter criticism from both the Scottish Crofting Federation and NFU Scotland.
Labour’s candidate for Na h-Eileanan Iar, Alison MacCorquodale also protested.
Ms MacCorquodale said; ‘It was a scandal that successive Tory governments refused to pass on the convergence money . The decision in September to finally acknowledge this longstanding injustice and pay the convergence money to the Scottish Government represented a golden opportunity for Fergus Ewing to right a historic wrong.’
Ms MacCorquodale said: “It was meant to bring the average payment rate per-hectare closer to the EU average and should have been used to increase payments to those regions furthest from that average, those being Regions 2 and 3.
‘While I welcome the proposed increase in Region 2 payments, crofters across the Western Isles are justifiably furious with the decision to use this money to increase the already significant Region 1 payment further while only increasing the payment to the poorest land in Region 3 by a pitiful £6 per-hectare.
‘To add insult to injury the decision to use £13 million of the funding to plug the gap in LFASS funding, which is of the Scottish Government’s own making, is nothing short of disgraceful.’
The Labour candidate added: ‘Fergus Ewing promised he would use this money to benefit hill farmers and crofters. Instead he has used it to further support those on the best agricultural land in a shameful attempt to win back support from Tory voters in the SNP’s former strongholds of the North East. This is yet another example of the SNP showing contempt for crofting and crofters."
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan said: “The Scottish Government should be credited for finally prising the long-withheld EU convergence money for farmers and crofters from the UK Government which for so long withheld it.
“Now that the detail has been published, it is very clear that the basis on which the first £80 million is to be distributed remains contentious, particularly the share of money that is going to the best land. While it is welcome that those on the least-favoured land are getting the highest percentage uplifts, these are of course high percentages of what were in many cases tiny grants to start with.
“Like my colleague Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, and others, I have spent much of this weekend speaking to government, and in particular to Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing, to raise these concerns. I have also been in touch with a number of crofters in the islands.
“The conversation with Mr Ewing was constructive, and I hope has left the Cabinet Secretary in no doubt just how strongly so many in my constituency feel about this issue. I welcome the fact that Fergus Ewing has been prepared to listen on this, and I hope he will now be able to respond directly to the concerns which crofters have expressed.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP, Angus B MacNeil said he had has spoken to Fergus Ewing following growing protests about the convergence uplift funding for crofters.
Angus MacNeil said:“Clearly there are concerns that the convergence money is not being distributed to where it is most needed.
“The Scottish Government must review and make good the concerns of crofters and meet the original hopes for this funding.
“We know that this money was delayed by Westminster for a number of years and that the current money has to be distributed by March 2020. It would seem that the Scottish Government has rushed to announce this funding in order to meet this deadline.
“Fergus Ewing has assured me that he remains keen to ensure that active crofters and farmers in upland and sheep areas do benefit proportionately from this money and that LFASS will be protected.
“We would see a lot more money in our communities if support for crofting in Scotland was on an equal par with support given to similar activities in other European countries and this convergence money should be a step in the right direction.
“This is certainly a moving situation and I hope that after Fergus Ewing visits Lewis this week, he will take on board the concerns that will no doubt be raised with him and allay the fears of crofters.”
Earlier the Scottish Crofting Feberation SCF’s chair, Yvonne White said: “Whilst the announced allocation of the convergence funding is a slight improvement over the NFUS proposa, it is still a disgraceful misuse of the money that was intended to help those on very low payments. This is not ‘true to the principles of convergence’ that Fergus Ewing sanctimoniously claimed - to the Scottish Parliament - he has upheld. Quite the opposite in fact. We have all been misled.”
Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said: “Fergus Ewing has managed to annoy just about everyone in the sector with his misjudged decision over convergence allocation.
"Rarely can a minister with responsibility for farming have received such a stinging rebuke from industry representatives.
“It is quite clear that the SNP Government is proposing to use the payment allocations to cover funding gaps they themselves have created in LFASS payments.
“This money was secured by the persistent lobbying of Scottish Conservative MPs at Westminster and it is shameful that the results of their hard work is being set aside in such a cynical way.
“Mr Ewing needs to return to Parliament and explain himself to MSPs and to their farming and crofting constituents.”
Ness crofter Donald ‘Sweeny’ Macsween is one of those affected by the way in which money is to be allocated. He holds 200 hectares of common grazing shares on rough moorland and just 22 hectares of better quality, agricultural or permanent grassland.
He said that he ‘got his hopes up’ after last week’s initial Government announcement, but is now becoming increasingly angry, voicing his outrage in a series of social media posts. On Friday (November 1st) he said: “The money was paid by the EU to go to those of us who have Region 3 ground, like moorland and hills. I claim for 200 hectares of this, through common grazing shares. Announcements this week from Scottish Government were that the money was going to go to those who needed it the most, crofters and hill farmers on upland and marginal land.
“Turns out we were lied to by our government. 50% of the funding is going to Region 1 land, meaning that the big farms all over the country will be getting a larger cut of this, rather than those it was supposed to help."
Yesterday (Sunday November 3rd) he added: “A quick search of the internet lead me to several examples of Fergus Ewing MSP criticising the UK Government for withholding convergence funding from Scottish hill farmers and crofters, those it was supposed to help.
“Perhaps you can understand why I am so angry with the decision he has announced to spread this money across all of Scotland, shafting those it was supposed to help. Yes, I am furious, disappointed but, funnily enough, not surprised in the slightest. The Scottish Government deem us crofter plebs to be expendable.”
(This article has been extensively updated since first being published.)