Guest blog from Andrew Stark, Land Use Policy Offer RSPB Scotland and Rhys Evans, Policy Officer RSPB Cymru
A new Parliament
On May 6th, Scotland voted in a new Parliament and Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). There were 129 seats up for grabs, with the following results: SNP (64), Conservatives (31), Liberal Democrats (4), Scottish Labour (22), and Scottish Green Party (8). Whilst the SNP were 1 short of reaching a majority, Scotland uses a different voting system to the UK general elections called ‘additional member (AM) system’. So, whilst they didn’t reach a majority, the AM system is set up in such a way that it is very hard to do so, as voters vote for both constituent and regional MSPs (you can read more about how it works here).
What this means in practice is that the SNP need to rely on the support of other parties to get through their policies with a majority, which can be beneficial to the RSPB in working across the political spectrum. We are keeping an eye however on discussions between the Scottish Greens/SNP about a formal alliance.
A new Cabinet
So, what does this mean for making our food system more nature friendly? As well as new MSPs, there have also been changes to the First Minister’s Cabinet. Most notably for the work of RSPB Scotland, Fergus Ewing, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism was replaced by Mairi Gougeon, as the new Rural Affairs and Islands Cabinet Secretary. This is where agriculture but also food policy currently sits in the Scottish Government. Under Mairi Gougeon is new MSP Màiri McAllan, as Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform minister. RSPB Scotland are looking to engage with the new Cabinet Secretaries (including new roles such as the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport and Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work).
Food and agricultural policy are devolved policy areas to the Scottish Parliament. Therefore, in order to make a Scotland that is rich in nature, with a food and farming system that works for both people and Scotland’s environment, it is vital that we work constructively with the new Cabinet and all elected MSPs to achieve our objectives.
What is RSPB Scotland doing to change our food system?
In Scotland, RSPB work closely with likeminded organisations in the Scottish Food Coalition (SFC), united around a shared vision of changing Scotland’s food system for nature, climate and people. SFC have been longstanding campaigners for a framework piece of legislation – called a Good Food Nation Bill – for many years and, whilst it has not yet been brought forward, the idea continues to have cross party support as witnessed at our recent 2021 election hustings. We will continue to advocate for a Bill to be introduced in the new Parliament along with our ‘Good Food Nation Ambassadors’ – our network of volunteers across Scotland.
The SFC has five asks for a Good Food Nation Bill (see below). These are what we believe the Bill should contain to create the comprehensive and holistic change needed to truly transform our food system. You can see how each of the five elected parties stack up in this SFC blog.
Establish a Statutory Independent Body
Three of the five elected parties (SNP, Greens and Labour) made explicit commitments to bringing forward a Good Food Nation Bill, with the other two parties mentioning commitments to advancing food policy in general. We are delighted with these commitments and will be looking to work with all parties in getting a Good Food Nation Bill on the table.
A new Parliament and new opportunities
With Scotland set to host COP26 later this year and a new Parliament with fresh energy and enthusiasm, the time has never been more urgent for bringing out food system transformation in Scotland. RSPB Scotland are looking to work with our Coalition partners to bring forward a Good Food Nation Bill at the earliest opportunity and will be meeting MSPs and Ministers over the coming months, aiming for a Bill to be included in their Programme for Government – the Government’s plans for 2021-22 – as it was in 2019-20. We can then make a Scottish food system that is fairer to nature, people and our climate.
As the dust settles following the Welsh Senedd elections, RSPB Cymru have been busy working out what the results means for nature friendly farming and food systems. But let’s begin with the results…
Welsh Labour Prevails
With political experts predicting a close race to the Senedd, First Minister Mark Drakeford defied the polls and led Welsh Labour to victory, winning 30 of the 60 Welsh Senedd seats. The Welsh Conservatives won 16 seats (their best ever result) while Plaid Cymru in third took 13 seats. The remaining seat was won by the Welsh Liberal Democrats.
Cabinet Shake Up
A new Senedd Term brings a new Welsh Government Cabinet, with Mr Drakeford shaking things up quite a bit - one example being the creation of a Climate Change Ministry, headed up by Julie James (MS Swansea West), with Lee Waters (MS Llanelli) deputising. Lesley Griffiths (MS Wrexham) continues in her role as Minister for Rural Affairs (her brief also includes North Wales and role as Trefnydd) which will include future farming policy, agri-food sector and its associated supply chains. For RSPB Cymru’s work on food and farming, it will be interesting to see the relationship between these Ministries, and how prominent food and farming will feature in the new Climate Change Ministry. We’ll wait and see, however one cause for celebration was Mr Drakeford stating that “the environment will be at the heart of our decision-making.”
Nature-friendly farming at Slade Farm. Image (c) Polly Davies
Food and Farming
What can we expect from Welsh Government when it comes to Food and Farming? The Welsh Government’s Manifesto gives us some clues as to what to expect;
Building on the above, the recent Agriculture (Wales) White Paper gives a clearer indication of what farm support will look like, with farmers set to be paid predominately for providing ‘public goods’ from the land, including both social and environmental outcomes. This will mean farmers being rewarded for things like restoring biodiversity, improving water and air quality, storing carbon, enhancing pollinators, and contributing towards natural flood defence. The Welsh Government has indicated that the proposed Sustainable Farming Scheme (which will replace the Basic Payment Scheme and associated Agri-environment Schemes) will be introduced around 2024.
Heather and sheep. Image: Andy Hay (RSPB)
What is RSPB Cymru doing to change our food system?
RSPB Cymru have long advocated for future agriculture policy to better support and reward nature friendly farming. Whilst the direction of travel outlined in the White Paper is positive, the devil will be in the detail of the Sustainable Farming Scheme. We look forward to engaging with the Welsh Government and farmers on this, and help ensure that future policy works for nature, farmers and society.
We are also part of Food Policy Alliance Cymru, a coalition of organisations and stakeholders building and promoting a collective vision for the Welsh food system. We’re calling for a cross-sector Food System Commission to be established and tasked with developing a roadmap to deliver a ‘Food System Fit for Future Generations ’, aligned with the principles of agroecology. The development of a Wales Community Food Strategy is an interesting development, and we hope to work with the Welsh Government on this important area.
The food and farming system can play vital role in tackling both the nature and climate crises. The next Senedd term is crucial in developing policies and legislation that will form the foundation of a truly sustainable Welsh food and farming system - one that works for all the people of Wales.
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