Gloom as winter approaches

Malachy reflects on the speedy passing of summer and reveals how foot and mouth in Surrey has affect

The year is advancing with impetuous haste and a blatant disregard for those of us who are willing it to slow down.

Summer seems hardly to have begun and yet already the calendar shows August is largely gone. The hills are glowing purple with heather, the days are growing noticeably shorter, and the vegetables from the garden are now beginning to fill our plates.

The passing of time is something I have come to notice more since moving to Fair Isle. Each season has its jobs, each month its many tasks, and everywhere you look there are reminders of the year’s progress. Most of the silage fields are now cut and cleared of grass, with the last few soon to be done; and the lambs, now fat and heavy, are almost knocking their mothers over as they dive beneath them for milk. There is undoubtedly an autumnal feel to the days.

Traditionally, this was the beginning of the most important and joyous part of the crofting year. Crops would be harvested, vegetables gathered and animals killed, all ready for the coming winter. All the year’s work leads towards this climax.

Somehow though there is sadness too with the approach of autumn, and the knowledge of winter just around the corner. Summers here can be so short, and the dark, cold months seem unbearably long when viewed from ahead.

In part this may be because autumn no longer means as much as it once did; it is no longer vital to survival in the way it once was. Few crops are now grown here, and though many people do grow vegetables, their success is not crucial. Everything you need can be bought in the shop, so the pressure to succeed is not so great, and the joy and relief in doing so is likewise lessened.

Or perhaps it is just me, blinded by post-holiday gloom. Perhaps things will seem brighter again in a day or two. Once the rain stops.

There is a gloomy uncertainty though amongst crofters and farmers this year for another reason. The situation regarding livestock movements, following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Surrey, is a potentially critical one for anyone involved in agriculture.

Although Shetland, along with the other Scottish islands, was given early exemption from the ban on moving livestock (though this came too late for the main agricultural shows, which were forced to go ahead without animals) export of lamb and cattle is still prohibited.

This is of particular worry right now to Fair Isle crofters. Because shipping lambs from the island to mainland Shetland requires calm weather, ours are always among the first to be sold, after which they are usually shipped to Scotland to be fattened up before slaughter. If the export ban is still in place in a few weeks’ time, when our lambs should be going out to the market, it could potentially prove very difficult to get rid of them. No one is entirely sure what the solution will be, but even if the ban is lifted (which fortunately seems increasingly likely as each day passes) it is almost certain that the foot and mouth outbreak will push down the price of lamb once again this year. Given how little crofters earn from lamb already, this is exactly what they do not need.

The obsession in this country with making food as cheap as possible has been entirely at the expense of the independent food producers. Most people have no concept of the hard work that goes into rearing the meat that they eat. A situation like this can only serve to make things even harder.

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
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What type of Brexit did we vote for? 150,000 Conservative members will decide

As Michael Gove launches his leadership bid, what Leave looks like will be decided by Conservative activists.

Why did 17 million people vote to the leave the European Union, and what did they want? That’s the question that will shape the direction of British politics and economics for the next half-century, perhaps longer.

Vote Leave triumphed in part because they fought a campaign that combined ruthless precision about what the European Union would do – the illusory £350m a week that could be clawed back with a Brexit vote, the imagined 75 million Turks who would rock up to Britain in the days after a Remain vote – with calculated ambiguity about what exit would look like.

Now that ambiguity will be clarified – by just 150,000 people.

 That’s part of why the initial Brexit losses on the stock market have been clawed back – there is still some expectation that we may end up with a more diluted version of a Leave vote than the version offered by Vote Leave. Within the Treasury, the expectation is that the initial “Brexit shock” has been pushed back until the last quarter of the year, when the election of a new Conservative leader will give markets an idea of what to expect.  

Michael Gove, who kicked off his surprise bid today, is running as the “full-fat” version offered by Vote Leave: exit from not just the European Union but from the single market, a cash bounty for Britain’s public services, more investment in science and education. Make Britain great again!

Although my reading of the Conservative parliamentary party is that Gove’s chances of getting to the top two are receding, with Andrea Leadsom the likely beneficiary. She, too, will offer something close to the unadulterated version of exit that Gove is running on. That is the version that is making officials in Whitehall and the Bank of England most nervous, as they expect it means exit on World Trade Organisation terms, followed by lengthy and severe recession.

Elsewhere, both Stephen Crabb and Theresa May, who supported a Remain vote, have kicked off their campaigns with a promise that “Brexit means Brexit” in the words of May, while Crabb has conceded that, in his view, the Leave vote means that Britain will have to take more control of its borders as part of any exit deal. May has made retaining Britain’s single market access a priority, Crabb has not.

On the Labour side, John McDonnell has set out his red lines in a Brexit negotiation, and again remaining in the single market is a red line, alongside access to the European Investment Bank, and the maintenance of “social Europe”. But he, too, has stated that Brexit means the “end of free movement”.

My reading – and indeed the reading within McDonnell’s circle – is that it is the loyalists who are likely to emerge victorious in Labour’s power struggle, although it could yet be under a different leader. (Serious figures in that camp are thinking about whether Clive Lewis might be the solution to the party’s woes.) Even if they don’t, the rebels’ alternate is likely either to be drawn from the party’s Brownite tendency or to have that faction acting as its guarantors, making an end to free movement a near-certainty on the Labour side.

Why does that matter? Well, the emerging consensus on Whitehall is that, provided you were willing to sacrifice the bulk of Britain’s financial services to Frankfurt and Paris, there is a deal to be struck in which Britain remains subject to only three of the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people – but retains access to the single market. 

That means that what Brexit actually looks like remains a matter of conjecture, a subject of considerable consternation for British officials. For staff at the Bank of England,  who have to make a judgement call in their August inflation report as to what the impact of an out vote will be. The Office of Budget Responsibility expects that it will be heavily led by the Bank. Britain's short-term economic future will be driven not by elected politicians but by polls of the Conservative membership. A tense few months await. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.