Independence Minded? at the Royal Highland Show

Rural Together and Farming For Yes were representing the Yes and No sides of the referendum debate at the Royal Highland Show 2014, with their focus firmly on the future of Scottish agriculture.

The Royal Highland Show: a sumptuous feast of massive tractors, cute and lethargic farm animals, equestrian events showcasing immaculate grooming, more absolutely ginormous tractors, pole-climbing championships — because who would be content with simply dancing around the damned thing? — and tens of thousands of visitors vainly attempting to navigate the unmistakably Scottish entertainment extravaganza.

Actually, that still doesn’t describe the half of it. An annual event which takes place at Ingliston on the west side of Edinburgh, there was show-jumping, BMX stunt teams, birds of prey, gun dogs (oh yes), pipe bands and much, much more taking place at different areas around the showground.

With such a rich variety of often weird and occasionally wonderful options, what better to do than to pretty much ignore it all and go talk politics instead, with those interested in what the referendum question matters to the farming community?

Scottish agriculture: the markets matter

Farming For Yes (Yes Please) and Rural Together (No Sirree) were both present and in talkative mood, supported by their bigger siblings Yes Scotland and Better Together. Perhaps perversely, one of my biggest joys of the day was finding that the groups were located on the same row though on opposite flanks — meaning that I had to literally cross sides to talk to each camp. (During one interview I had a member of the opposing team waiting to usher me to their stall, which definitely felt like a betrayal of sorts. Albeit a delicious betrayal.)

In terms of the arguments, discussion of two distinct markets loomed large. How well is Scottish agriculture represented by Westminster in the European market, and how much might we lose out if we were no longer an integral player in the British market? You can find further explanation about each point of view in the video above.

Of course, I would have provided definitive answers to those and all other important questions, except that I was urgently required to go stare at a bunch of big bloody tractors. Oh, and I needed to go attend the Terriers show too: very entertaining, though no word on how they intend to vote.

“I’m not by nature a political animal, and if you asked me even two years ago if I’d be here at the Royal Highland Show giving out leaflets and talking to people in this sort of political environment, I’d have been very surprised. But somehow it just feels right to get involved in this one issue, and to do the best I can to try and get the right result. I’m not a political animal, I’m just somebody who believes that independence will be good for Scotland.”

Neale McQuistin, Farming For Yes

“The UK is our marketplace. We sell far more of our produce into the UK than the rest of the UK put together. In the beef industry, yes we sell as much as we can under the Scotch label, but most of our beef that’s produced goes out under a UK label and goes down to the English market, where it is still considered a home product — whereas the likes of beef coming from Ireland is considered an import. If we lose our membership of the United Kingdom, we are then on the same footing as the Republic of Ireland, and we would be an outside country importing into England which is still possible, but the Irish get 50p a kilo less at the farmgate for their beef. That in itself I think is a big enough reason. The lamb markets exactly the same. Why would you want to cut off 90% of your home market?”

Alex Allison, Rural Together

“Scottish agriculture is in a very different situation than English agriculture. We’ve got 85% Less Favoured Areas, so if we want to support farming in Scotland we need help and support to maintain hill farms and all the rest. England are totally opposed to subsidy, and they’re wanting to change the way farming is managed… At the moment at the negotiating table [in Brussels] we’re being represented by people who don’t understand how food is being produced in Scotland, and what matters to us. The Westminster government have negotiated us to the bottom of the league table.”

Heather Anderson, Farming For Yes

I think we definitely have a strong Scottish identity. We also have a strong British identity. I don’t think being Scottish means you can’t be British, and I don’t think it’s the other way either. We have the best of both worlds here, we can have everything we want as part of the United Kingdom. Independent we’d lose a lot of it.

Iain Nelson, Research Officer, Better Together

Independence Minded? is a series of Scottish referendum portraits by Michael MacLennan. For more visit:, and