Stability is what we need now

As I was sitting down to write this, it occurred to me just how nice it would be to go back five years; only five years!

Why this popped into my mind was not just Omicron and all its concomitant Valkyries. So much is up in the air at the moment. We could talk about how Brexit is still shaking up the export and import markets, or how Mrs Merkel is an ex-premier or how Monsieur Macron is looking decidedly wobbly.

We could add that Ms Sturgeon has promised us the thrill of a referendum when Covid is passed, which may only occur when I am even older and much greyer. If this were not enough, the prospect of Russia invading Ukraine appears to be on the horizon, which makes the prospects of World War Three even more plausible.

How can so much go wrong, so fast? I bet that’s what Boris Johnson is saying just now too! I haven’t even tried to cover all of the issues facing us all, but it seems so hard for a primary production industry to cope with so much so fast.

If it wasn’t for one or two mitigating circumstances, 2022 would be looking like an awful year. For the poor, beleaguered food producer, 2021 was hard enough. For those of you who fought their way through the immediate effects of Brexit, while dealing with restaurant closures and an immensely variable market, my heart goes out to you all. And it would seem that 2022 is going to be as challenging.

While there will undoubtedly be a majority of people who will be enjoying the discomfiture of Johnson, one more destabilising event will only make things worse. Like Storm Arwen last year, these events out of our control will have a greater effect on our profitability than a lot of other things.

Grounds for hope

A badly run, unstable government dealing with a Covid outbreak and needing the opposition to support its control measures means that the ability of the Government to concentrate on the economy is all too limited. The UK economy has been severely damaged not only by the Covid measures, but also by a government focused on almost anything but creating a dynamic business environment and a smooth-running export market.

How can there possibly be any hope when faced with that? Yet I believe there are reasons for hope!

The first is that Omicron is spreading through the population extremely fast – or so we are told. Whether the boosters have a positive effect remains to be seen, but any statistician will tell you that exponential growth can’t last long. So Omicron will be a relatively short event however dramatic it is. Of course, there will be other variants but there is limited tolerance for further control and if a 100-strong rebellion in the back benches doesn’t make the Government think, then nothing will.

The question is: will the hospitality industry be able to recover quickly after being the butt of every regulation during the last 18 months? I am very hopeful that they will, but it will be a wobbly time for the next year and wholesalers who sell to them will have to watch carefully,

The second is that I do not think that the portents for a second independence referendum for Scotland look that good. That gives me comfort, not because of any political conviction, but because it would be another destabilising force.

If we can have a few years without some major economic change being forecast, then recovery is much more likely. Scotland now needs some undisrupted time to give its food industry a chance to re-evaluate its markets and for its traditional markets to recover.

Lastly, I still have enormous faith in Scotland’s produce, not least of which is salmon. It remains a hero product in most markets in the world and so re-establishing our position is so much easier than for many other industries around the world. We are immensely good at what we do and our product deserves the reputation it has.

Covid has to be a passing phase and one that teaches us how to behave when faced with such viruses. We have to realise that we hold the assets that are our children’s bread and butter. If we squander them pandering to our own immediate needs, then what will we leave for them?

Let 2022 be the year that we and our governments start to focus on how to hand a better economy and a better environment on to future generations.