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What could the SNP-Greens co-operation deal mean for food, farming and land use policy

What could the SNP-Greens co-operation deal mean for food, farming and land use policy in Scotland?

The SNP-Greens co-operation agreement has been thrashed out over the summer months. The details were published on Friday and gave us an opportunity to see what it could mean for food, farming and land use policy in Scotland.

While the deal has still to be rubber stamped by the Greens membership, the draft text does provide an indication of the direction of travel for this power sharing arrangement.
On a political level, it looks like a win-win for Nicola Sturgeon, who has burnished her government’s climate credentials ahead of COP26 while strengthening her argument for another referendum by securing a majority, pro-independence administration at Holyrood.

Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, meanwhile, could make history as the first Greens to enter government anywhere in the UK. The co-leaders, who are set for junior ministerial roles in government, are urging rank and file members to back the deal– even if there remain areas of disagreement between the two parties on issues such as aviation policy and NATO membership.

Nature targets and COP26

In many ways, the draft agreement reads like a climate-friendly upgrade of the SNP’s 2021 election manifesto, with an eye-catching pledge to introduce a Natural Environment Bill with targets for nature restoration.
This announcement may have been agreed with at least one eye on COP26 optics, but the bill will not be introduced until the third year of the parliamentary term in 2023-24. That timetable doesn’t quite reflect the urgency of the nature emergency.

Farming and land use policy

The shift in terms of the wording around agricultural policy is more subtle, but welcome. The introductory section references the term ‘regenerative’ agriculture, which didn’t feature in the SNP manifesto. In terms of the design of future policy, there is a nod to the Farming and Food Production Future Policy Group report, along with the Farming for 1.5C report and others from WWF and the Scottish Food Coalition.

This has been at least partially reflected in the make-up of the recently announced Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board, which will develop future proposals for farm support. One of the SAs farming ambassadors is among the group of appointees and, along with others, will help ensure the progressive farming voice is heard. 

The language around future options for support frameworks leans heavily on nature restoration and biodiversity gain, which again suggests a direction of travel towards linking policy – and payments – to the climate and nature emergencies. The section on enhanced conditionality mentions ‘public benefits’, which is closer to the ‘public money for public goods’ concept that we are calling for. Farmers should be rewarded for doing the right thing – delivering benefits including improved soil health, clean air and water, biodiversity and carbon storage.

Welcome commitments including an organic action plan

The creation of a new Organic Action Plan has been a key ask of ours at the Soil Association and it was great to see it included in the draft agreement.

We have called for the Scottish Government to go further and follow the lead of the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy on organics, with targets for growth not just during the current parliamentary term, but right up to 2030. This is a great opportunity for Scotland to show leadership to the devolved nations – and indeed the UK Government.
Forestry and aquaculture

On forestry, the tree-planting figure of 18,000 by 2025 is in line with the previous SNP manifesto commitment, but there is a welcome addition of an annual native woodland target as well as a reference to orchard creation. Soil Association Scotland would also like to see ring-fenced funding for agroforestry in the new farm payment system, echoing the recommendations of the Farming for 1.5C group.

The draft policy text also covers aquaculture and sticks broadly to the SNP manifesto. The commitment for an independent review of the current system is new, but arguably does not go as far as the Greens might have liked, given their manifesto pledged to phase out open net pen salmon farming.

Good Food Nation Bill and next steps

And last, but not least, is the section on a Good Food Nation Bill, which we hope to see included in the Programme for Government. Soil Association Scotland has set out what we want to see from this legislation – defining ‘good food’ in law, raising awareness of and normalising healthy and sustainable diets and ensuring the public sector is a beacon of good food.

The draft policy agreement called for a statutory Scottish Food Commission – per the Green manifesto– and we look forward to seeing and hearing more detail about that soon.

Overall, this deal can help deliver some of the policy changes we need to see to tackle the climate and nature emergencies, but there remains work to be done. If the arrangement is agreed, we will work to ensure the above pledges are met – and continue to push the Scottish Government to do more.