Over the last few days, Nourish interviewed candidate MSPs from each of the five parties that were represented in the last Scottish Parliament. We spoke with Angus MacDonald from the SNP, Sarah Boyack from the Scottish Labour Party, Miles Briggs from the Scottish Conservatives, Mark Ruskell from the Scottish Greens, and Alex Cole-Hamilton from the Scottish LibDems. Their parties referred these candidates to us as spokespersons for the food-related environmental and fairness issues raised in our 6 Election Asks. We asked the candidates to tell us about their personal stance on each Ask. We collated their answers in the following comparative piece.
Ask #1: Nourish supports rights-based access to food and advocates for the incorporation of international law on the right to food in to Scots Law. We asked candidates “What would you do to reduce and, by the end of the next Parliament, eliminate the need for people in Scotland to use food banks?”
All candidates identified low wages as a problem and supported measures for job security and payment of the real Living Wage. Further, Sarah Boyack called for a holistic anti-poverty strategy including action to facilitate access to affordable food and to alleviate other financial strains such as the cost of heating. She also stressed the need to support community food growing at a local authority level. Angus MacDonald spoke in favour of full incorporation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural Rights – the international law containing the right to food. Alex Cole-Hamilton noted the impact of austerity on food bank usage, adding that the need for food banks will not fall until we address inequality. Mark Ruskell advocated for a Food, Farming and Health Act to establish the right to food, including to ensure that social security is adequate to enable people to buy local and nutritious food. Miles Briggs noted the importance of supporting families and boosting the disposable income of low earners by raising the personal allowance threshold.
Ask #2: Nourish calls for a Food, Farming and Health Act to bring policy coherence across the food system and take a strategic approach towards the many intersecting issues. We asked candidates “Do you think Scotland needs a Food, Farming and Health Act, and if yes what do you think should be included?”
Most candidates agreed with the need for a Food, Farming and Health Act. Miles Briggs was not convinced of the need for an Act but believed that there was much cross-party consensus for taking forward specific measures to improve the situation across the food system. Mark Ruskell supported an Act to make real a rights-based approach; that would also include environmental targets, public procurement targets, and a statutory Food Commission. Alex Cole-Hamilton acknowledged the need for an Act to address issues in the food system coherently, specifically identifying access to fresh, healthy, sustainable produce and support for farmers and rural communities as important aims. Angus MacDonald explained he saw such an Act as complementary to the Good Food Nation Bill, which will include food standards for public procurement and measures to tackle food waste. Sarah Boyack highlighted the need to act on existing legislation as well as creating a new Act. She saw the establishment of a statutory Food Commission and the re-establishment of the Agricultural Wages Board as crucial elements of such Act; and she called for participative policy-making in the form of round-table with representatives from all segments of the food and farming sector.
Ask #3: Nourish campaigns for agricultural policies that better support rural economies and sustainable farming practices, and distribute public money more fairly and effectively; both at European level in the Common Agricultural Policy and at Scottish level. We asked candidates: “What are your priorities for investing in the future of farming?”
The upcoming CAP reform was identified unanimously as a crucial opportunity to improve farming policies. More fairness for farmers was also a common concern. Angus MacDonald said his priorities would be to support productive and sustainable agriculture; target activity; support new entrants; protect farming and crofting; and address the dysfunctional supply chains and markets in order to ensure farmers a fair return. Sarah Boyack identified two overall priorities: fairness for producers and consumers, and better support for more sustainable food production, i.e. small farmers, short supply chains, and agro-ecology. She also called for a change of timescale in farming payments in order to promote long-term approaches, better information sharing about the rules linked to subsidies, and more training opportunities for farmers to help them transition to more environmentally sustainable and economically viable farming. Alex Cole-Hamilton emphasised the need to align agricultural policies with climate change targets, and said he wanted to see more support for farmers’ markets as a way to promote local fair trade. Miles Briggs mentioned the benefits of Pillar 2 of the CAP for supporting farmers wishing to diversify their activities, including educational activities and care farming; but did not pronounce on the proportion of money that should be allocated to that Pillar. Mark Ruskell named five priorities in how agricultural policies should be improved: better supporting agro-ecology and the delivery of public goods; strengthening short supply chains, partly by re-localising production and processing of food; re-orienting agriculture towards serving local communities rather than export markets; improving food cultures and reconnecting people to their food; and better support for new entrants into farming.
Ask #4: Nourish is pushing for the introduction of a Retailers’ Levy that would tax the ‘health difference’ between the food sold by large retailers and caterers, and the National Dietary Targets. We asked candidates: “How would you intervene to change the direction of food marketed and sold in Scotland towards meeting the Scottish Dietary Goals?
All candidates acknowledged the problematic state of nutrition of people living in Scotland. However, views diverged as to how to best address this situation. Angus MacDonald and Mark Ruskell said they supported the idea of a Retailers’ Levy. The former agreed it would help to concentrate means to promote healthy diets but warned that it would have to be developed and implemented in a fair way, to avoid overly penalising retailers and caterers. Mark Ruskell emphasised that a Retailers’ Levy would demonstrate the gap between the ideal nutritional targets needed for good health, and what is currently on offer in supermarkets and most big restaurant chains. Alex Cole-Hamilton said market interventions may be necessary because we cannot look at public health in isolation from food. He added that he particularly supported regulating the marketing of foods to children. Sarah Boyack and Miles Briggs did not speak either in favour or against fiscal measures such as the Retailers’ Levy. The latter mentioned current positive marketing strategies supermarkets use to nudge people into buying fresh produce and expressed the need for the authorities to encourage retailers and caterers to apply similar strategies to their online shopping offer. Sarah Boyack said promoting local (farmers’) markets and short food supply chains was crucial to improve the availability of healthy food. She also called for effective policy measures to stabilise global markets. Finally, she spoke in favour of the Retail Ombudsman.
Ask #5: Nourish is pushing for the introduction of a compulsory 20% target for local and organic food served in public places. We asked candidates: “Do you believe it is time for a stronger commitment to organic food in public kitchens?”
There was a consensus that it is important to promote more local and organic food. All candidates spoke strongly in favour of targets and standards for public food procurement, except Miles Briggs, who preferred recommending the use of local and organic food where possible – in terms of costs and availability – without setting a compulsory fixed target. He also emphasised the need to give organic farmers the opportunity to access public procurement contracts. Mark Ruskell pointed out that local and organic food targets for public procurement were crucial to ensure there is a growing market for organic produce in Scotland. Sarah Boyack called for the leverage of public procurement to be geared towards promoting more quality, organic food, and stronger support for animal welfare and fair-trade principles. She highlighted that Local Authorities need to be given the financial means to implement the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 with regards to sustainable food procurement. Angus MacDonald applauded the progress achieved by Nordic countries in supporting sustainable food and shorter supply chains and called on Scotland to follow their lead and set bold targets. He also called for an improved health and nutrition framework for school meals. Alex Cole-Hamilton insisted on the responsibility of public authorities to lead by example through sound food procurement and mentioned nutrition in hospitals as work in progress.
Ask #6: Nourish urges Scottish authorities to empower communities and provide strategic support to the community food sector in Scotland. We asked candidates: “What do you think it means to be a food citizen rather than just a food consumer, and how will you empower food citizenship?
The common denominator in how candidates defined food citizenship was the awareness of where one’s food comes from. Alex Cole-Hamilton, Sarah Boyack and Mark Ruskell all cited education in schools as the first crucial step towards creating a generation of food citizens by teaching children rudiments of nutrition and food growing skills, and involving them in designing the menus. Miles Briggs identified the ability to choose for better quality food as a key component of food citizenship, as consumer choices drive change from retailers and governments. Yet, he admitted that for many people this ability is constricted by tight budgets. Along the same lines, Sarah Boyack argued that for the vast majority of people in Scotland food citizenship is a remote aspiration due to their daily struggles to buy affordable food and pay bills. Like Angus MacDonald, she highlighted the crucial role played by community gardens in empowering people to grow their own food, thereby acting as food citizens. Further, Angus MacDonald expressed his support for the development of community food hubs and the renewal of the Food Processing Marketing and Co-Operation (FPMC) Grant scheme, whose previous edition he said was a success. Finally, Mark Ruskell explained how empowering food citizenship had to go hand in hand with a fundamental democratisation of the food system. Beyond the need to raise awareness and educate people about food, he argued that people must be given opportunities to take active part in the food system and have control over their food environment. He outlined two priorities in that endeavour: first to improve the transparency of how food is produced, processed and marketed – including with better labelling and shorter food chains; and second to support community initiatives and promote wider access to food growing.
Disclaimer: The above article summarises excerpts from personal interviews conducted with a candidate from each of the five major Scottish parties. Nourish is not taking a position on parties’ policy stances but merely exposing the similarities and differences between each candidate on issues that are important to us.
Don’t forget to vote on Thursday!