Scottish rural affairs cabinet secretary Mairi Gougeon used a photo opportunity in front of the fishing fleet in Dunbar harbour last week to launch the Scottish government’s new policy document ‘Our Marine Sector in an Independent Scotland’.
With summaries translated into Gaelic and 15 other languages, from Arabic through to Urdu, this paper is the eighth in a series being published by the Scottish government detailing what it says are the benefits of Scottish independence, within the EU, across a range of policy areas.
In marine terms, the paper suggests, independence and renewed EU membership would see both better environmental protection and an increase in green jobs in the sector.
The 47-page document details many of the losses that it says the marine sector as a whole, and fisheries in particular, have suffered as a result of Brexit, including increased costs of paperwork associated with exports, loss of crucial quota shares, such as some saithe and whiting stocks, and access to EU funds.
The losses, the paper states, far outweigh the small quota rises seen in other stocks, which – other than for mackerel – have largely been for ‘paper fish’ that are unlikely ever to be landed by Scottish vessels.
The paper says that independence from the UK would also free up Scotland from UK priorities that place much less importance on marine issues, reflecting the relatively small share of marine resources south of the Scottish border.
It also highlights the huge potential for offshore wind, which would not only make Scotland totally self-sufficient in the supply of renewable energy, but a net exporter of green electricity into England and the EU.
The paper makes no mention of any hard border between England and Scotland, the impacts of this, or how Scottish vessels that currently fish in the English EEZ, and vice versa, might be treated.
Introducing the paper, the cabinet secretary said: “This paper sets out in detail how independence, and having an independent Scottish voice in Europe, will benefit our vital Scottish marine sector, the people and businesses that work in it and the coastal and island communities who depend on it.
“Scotland is a proud maritime nation. Scottish vessels account for over 60% of the value and tonnage of all landings by UK fishing vessels, and Scottish- farmed Atlantic salmon is the UK’s biggest single food export.
“The marine economy currently faces many challenges, many arising from Brexit, which has adversely impacted on Scotland’s coastal and island communities, businesses and industries. We lost freedom of movement and got new barriers to seafood trade. It also meant a loss of fishing opportunities for parts of Scotland’s fleet.
“An independent Scotland could rejoin the EU, gaining access to the biggest single market in the world and reclaiming those benefits.
“The Scottish government believes that independence is an opportunity to address the current challenges and to put the future of Scotland’s seas in Scotland’s hands.”
Reaction to the paper from Scottish opposition parties was rapid. Kenny MacAskill, the Alba MP for Dunbar, where the document was launched, told FN: “The SNP position is bonkers. Five years twiddling your thumbs, and then advocating a hard border with England. It’s crazy.
“The Alba position is to support joining the European Free Trade Association. That gives access to free movement and single market. It also allows for a separate trade deal with rest of UK.”
For the Conservatives, shadow rural affairs secretary Rachael Hamilton MSP said: “These half-baked proposals show that the SNP is hell-bent on aligning our fishermen once again with European Union rules, rather than helping to deliver the benefits available to them now.
“SNP ministers are kidding themselves if they think an independent Scotland would be able to reform the hated Common Fisheries Policy, which deeply damaged our fishermen and coastal communities for decades. We will hold SNP parliamentarians to account over their wish to rejoin.
“The nationalist coalition have already shown how out of touch they are with coastal communities and the industry this year by proposing their reckless plans for Highly Protected Marine Areas.
It is rich of them to talk about supporting Scotland’s marine sector when they’ve just cut £3m from Marine Scotland’s budget.
Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland Alistair Carmichael told FN: “This report rightly identifies that there are enormous opportunities for our marine economy in the isles and elsewhere. The expertise and the energy is there just waiting to be unlocked.
“The best way to unlock that potential, however, is to decentralise power and accountability to island and coastal communities – something that the SNP-Green government has steadfastly refused to do.
“It is a little galling to be told that leaving the UK would be a chance to empower coastal communities in Scotland by a government which has hoarded power in the central belt at every turn. Between their HPMAs
and other proposals, if the nationalists believe in backing our communities, then they have a funny way of showing it.”
This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here.
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