What happened to the Good Food Nation ambition?

At yesterday’s Committee meeting the many attempts to improve the Good Food Nation Bill went nowhere, as the Government was in no mood to compromise. The amendments clarifying the Bill’s purpose as giving effect to the right to food, setting up an independent food commission, committing to measurable targets all fell, with SNP and Green MSPs successively voting them down.

This was a surprise. The SNP-led Scottish Government has for years been championing a collaborative approach to policy making. They are an active member of Open Government Partnership, keen to promote trust and cooperation with civil society. The First Minister is also on record emphasising the importance of reaching across party lines to build consensus on issues important for Scotland. Wednesday’s Committee meeting put much of that into question.

Food is not – and cannot become – a partisan issue. We all eat, and the food system affects all of us. The collateral damage it currently generates – from environmental impact, to inequality, to poor health outcomes – are areas of common concern. And more than that: if done well the food system could be driving positive outcomes in all those areas. Carbon-positive farming, enhanced health and wellbeing, thriving and cohesive communities with strong local economies – food lies at the heart of all of those.

The ambition of Scotland becoming a Good Food Nation is supported by so many. Over 45 civil society organisations across Scotland share this vision, as do hundreds of people who petitioned, came to events, responded to Government consultations. After yesterday’s committee meeting we are left wondering whether the Government can meet this collective aspirations for Scotland’s food.

There is one thing that can make a difference to this Bil: a Food Commission. Establishing an independent body to champion action and scrutinise progress is our best chance of making headway. That’s what the Government did for all other complex issues that they seriously wanted to address: Scottish Land Commission, a Social Security Commission, a Poverty and Inequality Commission, a Just Transition Commission. Why not a Food Commission?

The upcoming Stage 3 will allow the Bill to be scrutinised by the whole Parliament. We know all opposition parties already support the setting up of a Food Commission. In yesterday’s committee meeting the Government said they are open to considering it. We hope the SNP and the Greens will join the others, and ensure the Good Food Nation Bill continues to be what it has been to date: a non-partisan effort to make the food system work for everyone in Scotland.