Article in the Scotsman by John Blundell
One effect of sharing a common market with the vast agricultural power of Poland and its neighbours is the potential collapse of the monstrous common agricultural policy.
One half of the commissionâ€™s current budget disappears in subsidies to farmers. In some cases these farms actually exist. So do their sheep and cattle. In a great many cases they are only farms on paper with no actual olive groves, herds or oilseed rape acres. The EUâ€™s own auditors admit that half are fraudulent. Another word might be criminal. The fingerprints of the Mafia and like groups are everywhere.
The absurdity of the CAP is well rehearsed. Its latest evolution into paying farmers not to breed turkeys or plant carrots, called “set aside”, has strained the credulity of even the most loyal of EU supporters.
What interests me is the arrival of the ten new agriculturally driven nations who are being locked out of most of the CAP. I believe a powerful, and eventually unstoppable, force will emerge to dissolve the iniquity and corruption of the CAP regime.
Still a bit remote and technical? It means the prospective transformation of the British countryside. Take away the subsidies for their familiar wooly balls of mutton and Scotlandâ€™s hill country will cease to be the current sheep range, grazed bare. Slowly at first, but quickly after a few seasons, the natural flora will return.
It is my prediction that most of Scotland will become fallow for farming purposes.
It will revert to natural native woodland. Birch, alder, Scots pine, rowan, juniper and oak will flourish again … because Polish farmers can supply us so much more cheaply than our current rigged markets.
Instead of paying farmers to rear animals or crops we will import from abroad and the CAP will crumble. The price of core grocery items will fall dramatically.
It would be a silly exaggeration to say all farming will cease. Yet there seems little to deny the mix of farming is ripe for a large jolt. The last time land use faced such a surprise was when Robert Peel abandoned the proto-type CAP, Corn Laws, in the 1840s. Catastrophe was predicted. In fact a newly prosperous farming flourished but with far less land under cultivation. From swords to ploughshares to golf clubs is how Lord Howe describes it.
There is an error which is easy to lapse into, namely the idea that most people in rural communities earn their livings from farming. It is false. Most people in even remote counties such as Roxburgh or Dumfries earn their incomes from services or local authority roles. What a refreshed landscape needs is a much more liberalised use of buildings. Planning is constricting alternatives.
It is an arresting claim but half the homes across the Highlands are empty or derelict. I mean the long abandoned crofts and shielings cleared for the arrival of the sheep economy 200 years ago. The great arc of the Highlands could re-populate quickly if planning consents were given more readily for restoration.
Once the GM-experts have found a way to rid Gaeldom of the curse of the midge all of Britain will want a home in the Highlands.
The “green belt” policy supported by politicians of every party is ripe for relaxation too. Edinburghâ€™s property prices would ease if new buildings were authorised, or more happily re-use of already urbanised land were allowed. We can all see how dormitory communities such as Dunbar, Haddington, Lauder and Peebles would boom if land owners were free to adapt.
People want to do far more in the countryside than commute. It is far from easy to establish light industries in the Scottish countryside because the entire system is rigged towards favouring farming. Grotesque industrial farm buildings are erected without any planning controls.
Try to set up a small warehouse or workshop and the local authorities will engulf you in impediments and delays.
The countryside used to be there for its produce – turnips or beef. Now its primary quality is its beauty, its green virtues. Could it be that the arrival of Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary and soon Bulgaria and Romania in the EU will utterly transform rural Scotland?
I think so.