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The commitment of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission to organise and deliver work within the devolved nations is a very welcome one, says Head of RSA Scotland Jamie Cooke.

There is no doubting that we are in a period of great upheaval.  Technology is changing at a far greater pace than ever before (as we are exploring in our work with DeepMind on AI).  The world is ever more connected, the internet allowing communication of ideas to every corner of the globe.  And our national position in the world is changing dramatically, as the uncertainty of Brexit challenges us to rethink our connections and opportunities in light of once of the most significant alterations that anyone has lived through.

Brexit promises to have profound implications for the nation across a wide range of areas and industries.  This is especially true for the crucial industries which work around food and farming in the UK, both its production and distribution.  Changes to trade agreements, removal of the Common Agricultural Policy, impact on availability of employees, new opportunities for business – these and many other areas will need to be managed and harnessed for the greatest good.

In light of this, it a very important development for us at the RSA to have recently launched the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, supported by the Esmée Fairburn Foundation.  Convening expertise and lived experience from across the sector, the Commission offers a vital space for these issues to be explored.  In line with our ethos at the RSA, it is a safe and independent space, not rooted in party politics or beholden to specific interests, and therefore very much needed in the political climate we find ourselves in.

As Head of RSA Scotland, responsible for developing the RSA’s activity north of the border, I of course have a primary focus around the interactions that our work can have with the Scottish political, cultural and economic landscape.  On a personal level, I grew up in the Highlands of Scotland, in a small market town, and believe strongly in the need to increase the level of activity taking place in Scotland beyond the Central Belt.  Our rural and island communities face many challenges different to those of Scotland’s urban centres, and, for me, are often missed within the national debate and policy decision making.

As such, the commitment of the Commission to organise and deliver work within the devolved nations is a very welcome one.  Brexit poses a number of additional questions for Scotland, particularly in relation to the potential for further devolution of powers around agriculture; but also around what the shape of the Scottish agriculture and food industries will look like in future.  Products such as salmon and whisky make a significant contribution to the success of Scotland’s economy (and the wider UK one too), and need to have their voices heard within the work of the Commission.  Likewise, Scotland’s rural communities face a number of challenges around population, employment and resources which require support moving forward as EU investment ceases to be available.  There is a need for the work of an independent Commission to build on some of the excellent work already underway in Scotland, and to connect those debates into the wider context.

I will be working closely, therefore, with my Commission colleagues to connect into the expertise we have in Scotland.  We are keen to hear from those working in agriculture, and those connected to food provision infrastructure across Scotland.  We will be working with businesses and business support agencies; and likewise with public and voluntary sector organisations working around food poverty and insecurity.  We are looking to explore what connects these areas with the rest of the UK, and also what is different in Scotland.  We want to hear from you, so please take the chance to connect with us.  We have much to be proud of in Scotland, let’s make sure that helps to shape the future in a positive way.

Jamie Cooke is Head of RSA Scotland.  You can contact him at jamie.cooke@rsa.org.uk, and connect with him on Twitter @JamieACooke and @theRSAScotland

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