The Scottish Conservatives say they would introduce a dedicated funding stream for farmers and rural communities if they were in power.
As the second day of the Conservative Party conference kicks off in Birmingham, the party says the SNP has “left rural Scotland behind”.
In a bid to make up for this they said they would set up a rural development bank if they were in government at Holyrood.
This bank would be a dedicated fund that farmers and community groups in rural areas could rely on to invest.
However, the SNP said the Tories had “nothing positive to offer” for rural Scottish communities.
SNP “obsessed with centralization”
The Tories said they would need to introduce a fund like this because rural areas are being ignored by the SNP government which is ‘obsessed with centralisation’.
They hope that the money distributed by this new bank can be used for capital investments or to help people buy land, machinery and livestock.
Community groups could also use the money to invest in infrastructure, building regeneration and new technologies.
Similar banks already exist in other countries such as the United States and India, and the party would expect it to operate similarly to the British Business Bank.
They added that a separate fund specifically dedicated to rural development is needed because “there is an inherent bias against rural projects” in institutions such as the Scottish National Investment Bank.
Priority to rural communities
Rachael Hamilton MSP, rural affairs spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives, said the policy would support rural communities who are “constantly ignored” by the SNP.
She said: “Our rural first approach would ensure they are put first and the establishment of a rural development bank will be at the heart of this.
“Our farmers and rural areas are being hit hard by rising costs and simply don’t have the same access to essential services as those living in the central belt.
“The rural development bank would ensure that it has a dedicated funding source where it can apply for loans and grants which would then be reinvested into our rural economy.”
They added that although the National Farmers’ Union Scotland told them that the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and the war in Ukraine had created a “perfect storm” for the agricultural sector, they did not believe that Brexit had set in jeopardize agricultural financing and local products.
Ms Hamilton added: “[The SNP’s] Attitude to the unique challenges they face will not change, but I am proud to present this new policy to show that Scottish Conservatives stand up for our rural communities and create new jobs and opportunities in these areas.
The SNP defends its rural policies
Meanwhile, SNP’s Jim Fairlie, MSP for Perthshire South and Kinross-shire and himself a farmer, said the Tories had a history of creating ‘economic and social disaster’ in rural Scotland.
He said: ‘Douglas Ross claims to be on the side of Scottish farmers, but his party has deceived our rural communities with dumbed down trade deals and an immigration policy that doesn’t work for anyone.
“Most staggering of all is the Tories’ denial of the existence of the giant elephant in the room – Brexit.
“Douglas Ross cannot wash his hands of this economic and social disaster for rural Scotland which he voted for and which his party has imposed on Scotland against our will.
“The Conservatives have nothing positive to offer Scottish rural communities.
“While they’re carp from the touchline, the SNP Scottish Government will continue to deliver for Scotland in partnership with our hardworking rural farmers and their communities.”
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[Conservatives plan for rural development fund if they were in power]