The Rural Affairs, Islands and Natural Environment (RAINE) Committee is currently taking evidence on the Good Food Nation Bill. And the most striking thing about the cross-party committee and all the witnesses called so far is the consensus around wanting the Bill to do more.
As convenor Finlay Carson said last week ‘There may be an argument that the Government should have fleshed it out more… and it’s going to be left to parliamentarians to bring forward amendments’.
Of course, MSPs are the lawmakers and this Committee is both knowledgeable and diligent. It’s going to need to be – later in this Parliament it will tackle the Agriculture Bill and the Natural Environment Bill which, together with this Bill, will shape how Scotland uses its land and sea for years to come.
But it has more work than normal to do with this thin Bill. First off, like the Tin Man, it lacks a heart. Government’s said the Bill is designed to ‘give practical effect to the right to food’ but there is no sense of purpose or passion in the Bill. And that’s strange, because there’s plenty of passion in Scottish Government’s commitment to human rights, in its climate ambitions, in its determination to end the need for foodbanks. This Bill is about making Scotland a better place to live and work, and a better global citizen. It needs a big heart.
Second, like the Scarecrow it needs more brain. It needs to spell out clearly what counts as success. The RAINE committee has wrestled valiantly with the semantics of targets, goals and outcomes – but whatever language it settles on the Bill needs to spell out how it defines and measures success. Ending severe food insecurity is an aspiration, but a specific and measurable one, as is halving the environmental impact of the Scottish shopping basket. Reducing the yawning gap between the Scottish Dietary Goals and what we are sold by food businesses would be a good, specific outcome. And these targets or outcomes – with their associated metrics – should form the backbone of the national and local plans, providing some of the much-needed coherence between local and national food policies.
Finally like the Lion, it needs courage. Not just to be bold in seeking to transform the food system and make the right to food real; but the courage to be open and accountable. The Bill needs to spell out that participation is key to developing the local and national plans. It should ask Parliament to discuss and scrutinise the food plan, just as with the Climate Change Plan. And it needs to establish an independent statutory body to keep the score on progress and to support co-operation and learning.
The Bill is making its way down the yellow brick road. If the Committee take up the challenge, we have every chance of arriving in a Good Food Nation. Look out for those ruby slippers…