Pressure on the SNP is intensifying over its failure to pay thousands of farmers on time, after a senior farming figure called for the rural affairs secretary’s resignation.
Former NFUS boss Jim Walker said, despite backing independence, he “could never support a party, a minister or a government who have been quite so incompetent and frankly naïve”.
And at First Minister’s Questions today, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said one of the reasons the SNP has been so slow to act on the CAP payments crisis was because it only affected rural Scotland.
Had the IT system failure – which has cost the taxpayer an additional £75 million and left thousands of farmers severely out of pocket – been an urban problem in the central belt, the SNP “would be all over it”, she added.
Delays have plagued the £400 million CAP payment scheme since December, and it was confirmed today that more than half of Scotland’s farmers are still waiting.
That means hundreds of millions in CAP payments are still missing, despite the Scottish Government telling all farmers to start expect payments in December.
And the system has been so chaotic Audit Scotland has had to intervene, and will report on the systems failings in May, having first warned about them two years ago.
At FMQs, Nicola Sturgeon refused to criticise Mr Lochhead, instead pointing out the SNP had asked banks to help out, and had set up hardship funds farmers could apply to.
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said:
“Our rural economy is currently being starved of nearly half a billion pounds of funding – because this SNP government couldn’t organise a payments system on time.
“It’s a complete failure of government, it’s damaging people’s livelihoods and the problem is still not fixed – two years after ministers were warned about this.
“The truth is that if this was affecting urban Scotland or the central belt, the SNP would be all over it.
“But because it affects rural Scotland and the Borders, it has slipped off the radar.
“Jim Walker speaks for thousands of farmers and crofters who are looking for action, and the Cabinet Secretary is part of the problem rather than the solution.
“This is why Nicola Sturgeon has to step in and take personal charge of leading rural Scotland out of this crisis.”