It’s hard not to be impressed by this year’s Programme for Government. There’s a definite green tinge and a renewed focus on getting stuff done as hopefully we emerge from the pandemic. When it comes to food, it’s a jigsaw puzzle with bits and pieces scattered across the PfG.
The headline news is the Good Food Nation Bill. It’s great to hear the First Minister confirm that it’s coming this year. We would like to see it more joined up with other parts of the food agenda – but we are very pleased to see it nonetheless. This framework Bill has the potential to be a gamechanger for the food system in Scotland.
On the farming side, the big ticket item is the reform of agricultural support with a clearer alignment to climate and nature outcomes. This, combined with commitment to double the area of organic land are promising developments. There are also some steps towards creating more sustainable fishing and seafood.
With regards to land ownership, there’s more money for community ownership and a public interest test on large land sales, with a presumption for community ownership. This – combined with stronger rights for tenants, a rural entrepreneurs fund as well as a £50m low carbon fund for derelict and vacant land – can help to democratise access to land.
For the local food economy, there is the community wealth-building act, the town centre renewal fund and the 20-minute neighbourhood idea. Consultation has already begun on the local food strategy. On the public health side there are commitments to improve the convenience store offer and the moves to restrict unhealthy promotions in the Public Health Bill.
While the right to food is not explicitly mentioned, there many measures which support it. Firstly, there is a commitment to planning specific steps to ‘end the need for foodbanks’. (It’s disappointing though to see it qualified by ‘as a primary response’ – by comparison there’s a commitment to ‘eradicate rough sleeping’ and a ‘mission to end homelessness’ – exactly the sort of rights-based approach we hope to see in food policy.)
Beyond this, we’re pleased to see progress towards a Minimum Income Guarantee and Universal Basic Services; the promised increase in the Child Payment; the rent controls and the ‘housing first’ approach to homelessness, increasing energy efficiency to reduce fuel bills. And of course consultation starts this year on the full human rights incorporation – a new legislation bringing social, economic and cultural rights (including the right to food) into Scots law.
By all accounts we have all the pieces for the food jigsaw we want to make.
There’s the blue sky pieces: the aspirations set out by Government in its Good Food Nation policy back in 2014:
everyone in Scotland has ready access to the healthy, nutritious food they need dietary-related diseases are in decline, as is the environmental impact of our food consumption Scottish producers ensure that what they produce is increasingly healthy and environmentally sound.
There’s the ground: having the right to food in law, and a higher floor for incomes so as the First Minister said today ‘everyone has a sufficient income to live with dignity’.
People are front and centre, creating an everyday food environment where it’s easier for us to nourish ourselves and enjoy food with others.
Behind them the landscape of genuinely sustainable food production – on sea and on land, diverse and people-centred, good careers and livelihoods, kind and nature-focused.
But every jigsaw needs an edge. The Good Food Nation Bill constructed as a framework bill (1640s /freɪm.wɜːk/ “structure for enclosing or supporting”), can define the purpose and goals of a better food system and put in place the governance mechanisms we need to create it. There’s our edge and our corner pieces.
If we can keep hold of all the pieces, and keep thinking about how things fit together, we have the best chance yet of creating a Good Food Nation.
And it’s always easiest when you start with the edge.