SCOTLAND’S agriculture and fisheries sectors play a vital role in our rural and coastal communities, and a wider role in giving us our sense of what Scotland is all about – getting back into the European Union will go a long way to reverse the damage that successive UK governments have inflicted on them.

The Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) and Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) are two of the most significant programmes of the EU. Both are longstanding EU institutions but are not set in stone; like all parts of the EU, there are continual efforts to find ways to improve their delivery.

This was the subject of last week’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council, where changes to Cap were agreed, aimed at reducing the administrative burden on farmers.

The Cap is a partnership between society and agriculture that ensures a stable supply of food, safeguards farmers’ income, protects the environment and keeps rural areas vibrant. Established in 1962, it is the oldest EU policy still in operation.

About a third of the EU’s budget is dedicated to supporting farmers and rural areas through this programme, which is divided into two pillars covering three main areas of action: direct support, market measures (both making up the “first pillar”) and rural development (“second pillar”).

The CFP was originally part of Cap but is now a separate set of rules which aim to sustainably manage European fishing fleets and conserve fish stocks, including through the use of market incentives and fishing quotas. In 1970, the Common Market Organisation was established covering five fisheries areas: sectoral organisation, marketing standards, consumer information, competition rules and market intelligence.

Both programmes have had their share of successes and failings. Each ensures food security for more than 450 million people in an increasingly unstable world. The environmental standards embedded in both programmes also ensure sustainable management of land and sea, whilst agricultural subsidies also enable European farmers to remain competitive against third-country imports, often produced with less regulation or under less stringent human rights protections.

That’s not to say they are perfect, but they exist and they work. Whilst the Cap no longer takes up 70% of the EU’s budget as it did in 1985, it is still around a third of the budget in the current cycle.

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The CFP came in for a lot of criticism from SNP MEPs over the years, but the problem in truth was that we were represented in fisheries talks by an uninterested UK Government. I remember well seeing the December Fisheries Council (they were always the last week before Christmas) when Irish and Danish MEPs would be broadly satisfied and we got done over.

Both programmes though, even with their faults, are better than what the UK has delivered for the respective sectors outwith the EU structures. Indeed, when the UK was first looking to join the EU, it considered Scottish fishermen as “expendable” within “Britain’s wider European interests”. Throughout its membership of the EU, it was SNP MEPs, not Labour, Liberal Democrat, Tory or Ukip, who were consistent in standing up for Scotland’s fisheries and food sectors.

Alongside my colleague Ian Hudghton, we in the SNP were actively involved in the last significant reform of the CFP in 2013, where we helped ensure that historic fishing rights were not put in a position to be bought or sold.

I also spent several years on the EU’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and saw first-hand the difference EU funds made to Scotland’s farmers, as well as the benefit direct access to the single market gave our products.

The National: Brexit image.PA

Brexit has put paid to all that. Instead of taking back control, the lack of a veterinary agreement or sanitary and phytosanitary deal means that our agri-seafood exports to our biggest market face excessive bureaucratic barriers and costly delays. Indeed, as the FT reported last week, Scotland has lost up to £100m a year in salmon exports because of the red tape and increased costs associated with Brexit.

Another example is Scottish seed potatoes, where pre-Brexit Scotland exported an estimated 22,000 tonnes to the EU – sales have been blocked since Brexit, and only resumed to Northern Ireland under the Windsor Framework last year.

Meanwhile, whilst the Scottish Government is looking to replicate the multi-annual payments framework that Cap utilises, its hands are tied by the fact that the UK Treasury refuses to consider a similar scheme across England, meaning this has an impact on the funds available to the Scottish Government for this measure.

And of course, the loss of freedom of movement and the collapse of the value of the pound means that there are fewer seasonal workers coming to Scotland to pick Scottish crops, thereby meaning less produce for sale.

Given that the majority of jobs in Scotland’s agricultural and fisheries sectors are in rural areas, any impact on their profitability has serious ramifications for local jobs and their local economy.

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I see this first-hand in Stirling, where we have some of Scotland’s best farmland – and the cost of living crisis is particularly pronounced for farmers. It is very much in our interest to get back into the EU so that our world-famous food products can be exported to our biggest market with minimal fuss.

Being part of the EU also gives us a bigger say in reforming Cap and the CFP. Scotland’s farming and fisheries communities have never and will never be a priority for the UK Government.

Under an independent Scottish Government, we will not only have some of the best agricultural produce in the EU but some of the best fishing grounds in the world.

With Scottish MEPs, Scottish EU officials and Scottish commissioners advocating for Scotland’s interests and working collaboratively with our EU friends, this is an area we can have a meaningful influence in.

The EU does a lot of things well, and often far better than the UK; where it can be improved, we can play our own part in this as its newest member state.