Prospective Member of the European Parliament Dr Ian Duncan has said that he will take his knowledge from a career involved with the fishing industry and working in Brussels to “make a difference” as one of Scotland’s six MEPs.
He will be standing at the European Parliamentary elections in May once his Conservative colleague Struan Stevenson steps down. He was in Shetland this weekend meeting SIC leaders and fishing industry representatives prior to giving a talk on Shetland in Europe in Islesburgh on Friday night and arguing for the “No” side in the Althing debate on Scottish independence.
A Tory, but not a Euro-sceptic, Dr Duncan, believes that the European Union has many benefits, but needs considerable reform in sectors crucial to Shetland.
“If you look at Shetland itself, it seems to sit on the edge of Europe, and yet almost all the issues of Europe touch upon Shetland. So whether it be funding for broadband, and I know there has already been European funding come in through the fibre-optic installations; the fisheries fund, again, has put quite a bit of money into Shetland – we see that in the harbour facilities and also the training for fishermen, that has been important.
“Clearly the impact of the Common Fisheries Policy is felt right across the islands, there’s no question of that. And again the European Union is one of the big players trying to sort out this situation with the mackerel. Maybe not as well sorted as it should be.
“There is a lot of European money comes into the islands in different ways, so that has been important. The important thing as we go forward is to make sure Shetland’s voice is heard loud and clear in Brussels, both in terms of fishing and in terms of energy.”
Dr Duncan said that the Commission had attempted to create a whole new set of rules for the offshore industry, despite these being far below those applied in the UK sector already. The government had been able to fight off that extra layer of regulation.
Renewable energy was also important with the inter-connector that will enable Shetland to export renewable energy as crucial as wind and wave technologies themselves. “Not just the UK grid, but a North Sea grid. Bringing all of the energy onto the continent. That will be a big European investment. It will be important for Shetland and for Scotland.”
According to Dr Duncan it is important to keep a grip on health and safety and the working time directive, which could be a “bit claustrophobic” for small businesses.
Having spent seven years in Brussels working as an “intelligence gatherer” for the Scottish Parliament, Dr Duncan is aware of how the best intentions can easily snowball into unworkable regulation once the European system starts rolling.
“The key thing is to make sure that laws are made closer to home. So where they effect you, they should be made closer to you. The classic example is the working time directive, where you have the attempt to regulate all working hours across the entire continent from the darkest lands of northern Sweden to the broad, sunlit Maltese coast. When you have not even got common daylight, why on earth would you have common working hours. There needs to be a recognition that in diversity there is a sense sometimes.”
Dr Duncan worked for the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation and is fully aware of how difficult it is to get a one size fits all rule within Scotland, far less within all the EU member states.
“If you try and pretend it is all simple and can all be done with a dictat or a fiat from Brussels, then you end up with this madness which is one of the big failings of Britain, which is that we implement regulations very thoroughly.
“You need to have rules whereby if we are going to be held to a certain high standard, the rest of Europe has to be held to it as well. If they are not held to it there has to be a financial penalty.”
Scotland is the biggest constituency in Europe. Last week Dr Duncan was campaigning in Newton Stewart – almost as far away from Shetland as is possible to get in Scotland. He said that the difference in economic challenges between Shetland and the likes of Glasgow and Edinburgh were brought home in discussions with SIC leaders and Lerwick Port Authority.
“You can see the oil industry writ large here – actually see what’s going on,” said Dr Duncan, who has a degree in geology and background in the oil industry. “Shetland is right at the heart of that, absolutely perfectly placed to be the supporter of that exploration.”
According to Dr Duncan, Conservative policy is centred on constraining the spending of money by Brussels as well as protecting the UK’s “vital interests”. That includes fishing as well as the financial services which are centred in Edinburgh and Aberdeen as well as London.
“The reform agenda the prime minister has put forward will look at how we will begin to reconfigure our relationship with the EU to make sure we get a better deal and at the end of which there will be a referendum. So, no matter what your views are on Europe, you will get a chance to vote for the first time in a generation on where you want to be in terms of Europe, and that’s not being offered by anyone else.”