Brechin Community Campus hosted the 2016 Scottish Rural Parliament last week, with Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity Fergus Ewing MSP the keynote speaker.
The event kicked off last Thursday, with Mr Ewing delivering a speech, in which he praised the “magnificent” campus in his opening remarks, saying it was a “pleasure” to be in Brechin.
Mr Ewing also had warm praise for Angus Council, saying: “They have delivered just about the lowest council tax in Scotland and they’ve been doing that for many, many years whilst delivering the same quality of services as else where. Their apprenticeship scheme and their approach to business are examples which some of their peers could follow.”
Depute Provost for Angus, Alex King, also spoke at the opening ceremony; during his remarks he said: “Brechin in many ways is typical of Scotland’s rural burgh towns. It is a focal point for a large rural area but has lost many of its traditional industries, much of its employment base and its rail connection. However, Brechin is reinventing itself in new a form, largely through the efforts of the Brechiners themselves.”
During MR Ewing’s remarks, he spoke of the importance of the Rural Parliament, saying: “Those of us who live in rural Scotland, know that many of our neighbours and residents feel disconnected, isolated. They feel that the issues which concern them are all too often either overlooked or not sufficiently respected and that money doesn’t find its way out of cities in too many cases. A voice for rural Scotland is absolutely essential.”
Mr Ewing’s speech touched on some issues affecting rural communities, including connectivity. He said: “Part of my job is to ensure that Scotland becomes connected, properly connected, including rural Scotland, by 2021. That’s a very ambitious task. It is a long way away if you’re not connected.”
His final topic, before a Q&A session, was Brexit.
He said: “The issue of Brexit and the lack of clarity about what it means is a concern to a great many people. I met recently three farming cooperatives, and it became clear to me in discussion and detail about how these excellent cooperatives help farmers that they are almost totally reliant on workforce coming from the EU. They are almost totally reliant on migrant workers. These are people who come here, who work hard, who are choosing to come here to put their heart and soul into what they are doing. Very often on low pay and very often hard, hard work. And I think as a matter of respect and decency it beholds us to value their contribution and say ‘you are welcome in our country and you will still be welcome’. Without being to pious, there is a moral imperative but there is also an economic necessity. If you look at people who are working in our food processing factories, if you look at whose working in slaughterhouses, if you look at those who are working in so many parts of the tourist industry, so we are, I think really reliant. They are part of us. They are intertwined with rural Scotland.”
Brexit also featured in a debate on Saturday morning, with Mairi Evans, MSP For Angus North and Mearns, taking part. She said: “The debate on the impact of Brexit on the rural economy raised a whole host of questions covering a wide variety of topics. Perhaps the key issue raised however was in relation to migrant workers. Many members of the audience expressed concern at the statements that had emerged from the Tory party conference the previous week suggesting that businesses would have to list foreign workers. The panel didn’t agree on everything but did unanimously recognise the importance to the rural economy of migrant workers and agreed that the UK government needed to provide more certainty for the people who work here and have made Scotland their home. The importance of funding was also raised, in terms of the direct payments to farmers and wider rural development monies which, as yet, have not been confirmed. Questions were raised about how to make farming more sustainable and less dependent on subsidies, as well as what the shape of farm payments could look like if we are no longer members of the EU. It was great to get the chance to discuss some of the major issues that face us now and over the coming few years while Brexit negotiations take place. Unfortunately with so much still unknown and the UK Government negotiation positions shrouded in secrecy it was hard to provide definitive answers to some of the questions raised but it was a well attended and lively event!”