IN this column it is often useful for me to recall my days as a member of the Scottish Conservative Party. During this prior political career, such as it was, I enjoyed the plots to destroy leading figures on our own side when our particular faction disapproved of them.

Of myself, I found I had a talent for looking somebody I knew well straight in the eye, and then lying to them without blink or blush. Over the years I, with my partners in crime, left a lot of blood on the floor. Shameful as our conduct might have been, it was no worse than what I observe in other parties today.

Tory standards have not improved. I can tell this from how the present Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, has dealt with the charges that, for the sake of a new trade deal with New Zealand, he has sold out his own nation’s farmers.

Jack, I can assure everybody, is London’s man in Scotland rather than Scotland’s man in London. That’s how, without a qualm, he can threaten our farms with ruin.

A basic principle of his is that the UK Government may operate in Scotland in defiance of anything Holyrood might want.

We see that as, after Brexit, new deals with third countries become necessary. Once the UK entered the EU in 1973, we followed its Common Agricultural Policy, showing preference to the producers of other member states and discriminating against the producers from non-members.

This is all over now. Our products will meet discrimination in Europe, though we are free to pursue any alternative trade deals we like. Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to pursue them with vigour, in the hope of feeding public approval of his Brexit.

The world has of course not otherwise stood still for the last half-century. New Zealand – and Australia, which signed a trade deal with the UK in July – have built up markets replacing those they lost, including ours, after the end of Commonwealth preference. They are nations with large farming sectors that have grown accustomed to meeting fickle foreign demand, whether for kiwi fruit or Antipodean Chardonnay.

Inside the EU, Scottish farmers have in their turn had lessons to learn, out of a CAP specifically designed to support struggling agricultural sectors by subsidy. Expensive though this was, it saved them from disasters and kept the peasant producers going through hard times, or else eased the pain when they had to pack it all up.

We don’t normally identify Scots farmers as peasants, but often the difference between them and their continental cousins is meagre.. For example, the great majority run their business at a loss. The latest figures show average farm income in Scotland at £35,400 a year. Without the subsidies, this would be a loss for each farm of £7400 a year.

Under these conditions dairy farming makes a reasonable profit but all other types of agriculture lose money, or would lose it without the European subsidies, especially in remote areas.

Scottish producers suffer high costs for several reasons such as climate, terrain and transport, but the CAP has let them still sell to the world meat of the highest quality. Now that we are out of the EU, there will have to be a different system.

As, even in the old days before 1973, agricultural policy was always a devolved matter, the Scottish Government has a chance to influence for the first time the choice of a new regime. The UK Government has pledged to continue the same cash total for farm support till the new system is found.

Against this background a battle is being fought for the future control of agriculture in Scotland. The Scottish Government wants control in its own hands, the way it used to be in the original arrangements before 1973, as the patron of quality producers. The UK Government wants control in its own hands, too, so as to fit in with its ideas for a future on the cheap. Some startling consequences are possible.

THE CAP has had the effect in Scotland’s case of turning our farmers into producers at the top end of the market, with the finest beef and lamb sold at prices reflecting its quality.

Outside the CAP, and following the lowest global prices as Australia and New Zealand do, Scots farmers will go bankrupt and we will all be eating the inferior meat then entering our market.

For instance, the EU’s rules ban cattle for human consumption being castrated, which makes them grow faster so they can be sold sooner. But this turns their flesh flabby, and it is stiffened up with hormones potentially harmful to humans. Carcasses treated in this way are banned from Europe. Now they will be allowed into the UK.

Another contentious case is American chicken. It forms a huge part of US agricultural production, but it is not regulated in Washington at the national level.

Instead action is left to the individual states or indeed to the individual farmers. They can breed chicken as they like, which often means by means that would appal foreigners. The cheapest way for farmers to maintain hygiene is to wash the carcasses in chlorine after they have been gutted. The EU does not allow these birds to be imported. But now the UK will allow this.

Post-Brexit, the Scottish Government wishes to maintain the CAP’s standards of hygiene. The UK Government wants to relax the regulations so that American standards are legalised here. If the Scottish Government keeps control of agriculture the first policy will be followed, and if the UK Government keeps control it will be the second policy.

A couple of cases by no means exhaust the contentious issues arising. That is why the UK Government wishes, on a trading scene of growing complexity, to return agricultural powers straight from Brussels to London rather than divide them with Edinburgh. Given so much upheaval on the markets, they argue in Whitehall, it makes no sense to coddle a minor sector like Scottish agriculture. So there should in future be one department of agriculture for the UK, run from London.

This was what Michael Gove went on the road to argue last week, with the warm support of Alister Jack. From Edinburgh, by contrast, this pair seem intent on a plain power grab, spiriting away powers that have been Scottish for more than a century.

We would benefit if the SNP rank and file were to show less knee-jerk resentment towards the agricultural communities on the ground. Many are posh, and their image suffers. After Brexit, the big estate becomes the indispensable norm in Scotland outside the central belt.

On land suffering from environmental handicaps, agriculture cannot be easily organised within any other structure, just as in the ranches of the American Wild West or the sheep stations of the Australian outback. In much of rural Scotland too, everything else runs the risk of bankruptcy.