An unholy alliance
Over the last decade, it has become clear that our country is developing a worse and worse climate for business.
Government is populated by people who simply don’t understand that industry employs most of the populace and pays most of the taxes, directly or indirectly. Much more worryingly, these people also do not understand the amount of effort and risk required to create an enterprise, raise investment or get through the particular hell of our planning system.
Every industry, particularly the food industry, faces its own brand of activist. When you add in the nimby fraternity, planning authority and civil service, the poor developer is left sucking a lemon. I am not trying to get anything through planning at the moment and am not intending to for some time, but know a good few people who are. Their view is that the expense and effort disincentivises most people from even starting the process and not just for salmon farming. We need to rethink our whole planning system.
For salmon farming, we have to add further opposition: the river owners and anglers. When Loch Duart was quite young, I discovered an organisation called Linking Environment and Farming (or LEAF). I thought it was a brilliant name and had all the right credentials, particularly as it mirrored what we were trying to do. Sustainability was at its core and ours. I engaged their executive in discussions about joining, which came to nothing. After extensive enquiries, I came to know that its Chair was a landowner in Fife with many river-owning friends, who would not have approved. These people walk the corridors of power. It is not surprising that the Conservatives in Holyrood, despite being the party of business and farming, rail against salmon farming because their chums are river-owning proprietors looking for someone else to blame for their failing fisheries.
The problem is even more insidious than that. I shall use initials for the people I am about to mention, not because I fear reprisal as most people will know to whom I refer but because I refuse to give them oxygen.
A good number of activists, often arrogant ones, are up for a drink if you meet them at a function. In the case of DS, he succumbed to my offer and became very chatty. I mentioned that the wild lobby in this case a certain PF were pushing in various directions at the time. PF is the son of a rich river owner and extremely arrogant with it. I was utterly stunned to hear from DS, who presents himself as an unkempt new age hippy, that he had been to dinner with PF at his house two nights before and knew everything I was talking about.
As they say, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. We have lined up against us a bevy of people in the legal profession, politics and the civil service.
Most people would be hugely daunted by such an unholy alliance but salmon farmers know that they are talking to a much wider audience. Remember when BS campaigned outside supermarkets to try and stop consumers eating salmon? Or even funnier, when DS campaigned outside RSPCA headquarters in the pouring rain dressed as a seal. I have seen a photograph of it but could never get a copy. The public went on buying salmon in larger and larger numbers.
I had always hoped that, like Jon Gibb (Co-ordinator of the Salmon Scotland wild fisheries fund), the wild salmon lobby would start to see that we have to work together. In fact, I have always held the hope that all rural industries would start to work together as the political agenda becomes more and more urban driven.
It is becoming clear that, with the civil service working with such people and the political groups giving opposition more airtime than industry, we have to act.
Firstly, we need to ensure we are seen as farmers just like any other. Secondly, we need to look to the long term and start to work at our image in schools and higher education. A number of you will remember the West Coast school teacher who told her class to work hard or they might become fish farmers. I was outraged at the time but now I see that we weren’t talking to the teachers, so they didn’t know any better. It’s time we did.