On Sunday I’ll be accompanying the Cabinet Secretary to his meetings with Commissioner Ciolos, UK and Devolved Ministers, on the eve of the Royal Welsh Show. Yesterday I got a call from an old Brussels contact in the Commissioner’s team, looking for a heads-up on what issues Scotland might raise with him.
In a way that question highlights an issue that’s relevant across the whole of the CAP negotiations, namely where should we concentrate our efforts. This isn’t just a question of which issues are most important for Scotland – for the clever negotiator, it’s also relevant whether or not others share our concerns.
For example, we will only have time to ask for a certain number of things, and getting greening right is a crucial issue for us. But it’s equally important for everyone else, and it’s inevitable that somebody will raise it. So we could make greening one of our “asks”; or alternatively we could make our comments on greening on the back of somebody else raising it, and thus save one of our asks for something else. That could be new entrants, which is also crucial for Scotland but which isn’t being pushed as hard by others, and so might not get raised at all unless we do so.
This might sound a bit like game-playing, and it’s true that for a straightforward discussion like Sunday’s it’s not a matter of life or death. But the time will come when these tactical questions are really important. In the endgame of the negotiations, everyone will only be able to secure a limited number of their asks. If we can negotiate smartly and secure some of ours effectively for free, then we’ll get a better overall outcome for Scotland.