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  By a Newsnet reporter
 
Claims that an independent Scotland would struggle to promote its food and drink on international markets have been ridiculed by Rural Affairs Minister Richard Lochhead.
 
Mr Lochhead dismissed remarks by UK Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson who said Scottish exporters would suffer without the "clout" of the UK government.

The Conservative MP for North Shropshire, who was visiting Scotland at the weekend, said an independent Scottish Government would struggle to lobby foreign markets without the help of UK Government.

"What I see time and again after the success of the Olympics last year, the Royal Wedding and the Jubilee, is that there's a real interest in British products.

"There's a real positive for great Scottish firms like Walkers and those in the Scotch whisky industry in using the British government." the MP told the Scotland on Sunday newspaper.

Paterson told the paper that products like whisky were protected only because the UK Government had "real clout" and that staying in the Union offered, "a clear advantage for Scottish farmers and manufacturers".

He added: "We've negotiated all sorts of advantages specifically for Scotland at the request of senior Scottish politicians to help Scottish agriculture in the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] negotiations and represented the whisky industry and food manufacturers at the very highest level."

However the claims were dismissed by Scottish Minister Richard Lochhead who pointed to the massive success of the Scottish Government’s own Food and Drink strategy launched in 2007, which Westminster was now copying.

Scotland's food exports have outperformed the UK's as a whole between 2007 and 2012, with a 54.2% increase in value from £712 million in 2007 to £1,098 million in 2012.

Mr Lochhead said: "Owen Paterson is scraping the bottom of the whisky barrel with such comments.  Scotland's worldwide reputation for high-quality produce speaks for itself.

"With the recent launch of the UK government's Food and Drink International Action Plan, they have at long last started out on a journey the Scottish food and drink industry began in 2007."

The Scottish Minister said that independence would create even more opportunities for Scottish food and drink and will offer the fiscal powers to make Scotland a more attractive place in which to do business.

He added: "With our own voice in Europe, we can stand up for our farmers, our fishermen and our food industry. 

"And in our diplomacy we'll be able to prioritise key industry needs such as the removal of red tape between Scotland and markets our food industry would like to access, such as Japan, which for too long was not regarded as a priority for the UK government despite huge demand there for Scotch beef."

The remarks by Owen Paterson come only days after new Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael warned his Tory coalition colleagues against lecturing people in Scotland.

Mr Carmichael said that when coalition colleagues come to Scotland they should "...be prepared to learn.  It must be more than a lecture tour."

Mr Carmichael's predecessor, Michael Moore, used an interview in the Sunday Times to lift the lid on internal splits in the Westminster Government on the Ministry of Defence's bizarre proposal to annexe Faslane in the event of a Yes vote.

The former Scottish Secretary blasted the proposal as "nonsensical" stating "It would have shifted a lot of very moderate people – even those supporting the UK – into the nationalist camp saying, 'what on earth are they thinking of?' "

Commenting on the latest scare, SNP MSP Rob Gibson said:

"Alistair Carmichael has clearly got on a fight on his hands if he hopes to stop his Westminster colleagues from using trips to Scotland to talk down to people living here.

"His message clearly hasn't gotten through to Owen Paterson, whose comments about Scotland's food and drink sector are frankly bizarre.

"Scotland has been outperforming the UK in this sector since the SNP came into office and with our own voice on the international stage we would be able to achieve even more.  The irony of Owen Paterson’s intervention is that food and drink policy is already devolved - Scotland is successfully promoting its food and drink across the world with the limited independence we already have.

"It is poorly researched outbursts like this that betray the kind of arrogance at Westminster that led to such nonsense as the MoD's call to annexe Faslane – something Michael Moore branded as 'nonsensical'.

"People in Scotland can only hope that Michael Moore's sacking was not brought about because of his opposition to these kinds of ludicrous attitudes in the Westminster Government."

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