Scottish agriculture minister Richard Lochhead was on a short tour of Shetland yesterday and today to canvass the seat he said the SNP had their “best ever” chance of winning.
Together with SNP candidate Danus Skene, now back on the campaign trail after an extended period of illness, Mr Lochhead visited the abattoir in Lerwick and defended his record as cabinet secretary for rural affairs, food and the environment.
He apologised for the delay to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments to crofters, following the introduction of a new IT system struggling to cope with the “complex” CAP policy.
This was not working as fast as he wished, Mr Lochhead said, and an emergency fund had been set up.
He pledged that the “vast majority” of crofters would receive payments by April, and certainly by the time of the election of 5th May.
Mr Lochhead said: “I appreciate people are in a difficult position. It’s a perfect storm. I’m sympathetic That’s why we created the cash-flow fund.”
He said the re-classification of crofting land had added to the complex situation, given the “diverse” nature of farming land throughout Scotland. If lessons were to be learned they would be learned in this “transitional year”.
He said: “We’ve got to work within European regulations. We can but ask to get the flexibility required.”
Regarding the forthcoming election, Mr Skene said the situation was “very fluid”, but agreed with Mr Lochhead that the SNP had its best chance “possibly ever”.
The agriculture minister will be followed north by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is due to arrive in the isles on Monday.
During her visit Ms Sturgeon will open the SNP campaign hub in Lerwick and speak at a public meeting at Shetland Museum