SNP Euro MP Ian Hudghton was in Shetland on Monday putting the case for fisheries in an independent Scotland.
Mr Hudghton was to visit Whalsay for a public meeting in the Symbister Hall yesterday evening after meeting fishermen’s representatives in Lerwick and visiting the NAFC Marine Centre.
According to the long-serving MEP, who has just been re-elected to the European Parliament fisheries committee for the fourth consecutive time, the purpose of his visit was twofold – to find out fishermen’s concerns on the Common Fisheries Policy and convince them of the benefits an independent Scotland will hold for the industry.
According to Mr Hudghton, fishing has been compromised by Westminster from the start of British membership of the EU, when fishing interests were regarded as expendable in order to gain concessions elsewhere. That second-class status had remained for fishing ever since, leading to the “explosive” situation of the present CFP.
He said fishing would have a far higher priority in an independent Scotland, where it was of greater importance nationally and especially in Shetland.
He added: “In the past Scotland has had no absolute right of a say, never mind a vote, on fisheries or any other matter at European level, because it the UK is the member state and which jealously guards the status of being the one which makes the final decisions on negotiations on our behalf.
“These terms have worked to our disadvantage from the start. The UK Conservative government said that fishing interests were ‘expendable’, their word, so I think an independent Scotland with the absolute right to have input, would be a substantial step forward. It would mean that we would always have our voice and our views heard at the top table and not just sometimes when they happen to coincide with the rest of the UK”.
The European Parliament has co-decision making powers with the council of ministers and any new EU legislation on fisheries must receive majority approval in both houses, “not just in principle, but in every word, sentence and paragraph.” According to Mr Hudghton this has led to the emergence of consensual politics.
“It is a very complex, detailed and slow moving process. But it’s one in which the directly elected MEPs have input.
“The reality is that the vast, vast majority of decisions made at member state level at the council of ministers are made by consensus which means that there is usually something in that consensus for every member state, but most importantly it means that Scotland would be part of the preparatory work that goes into all of these decisions.
“We would move with independence from a position of sometimes having our views taken into account to a position where our views would always be tabled. We would no longer have a government that considered fishing communities expendable. We would have the opposite. We would have a government, of whatever party, that would treat this industry with the economic and social importance that it has for this country.
“Of course we would still want to work with our nearest neighbours and others to build alliances and we would have the right to do that.”
Mr Hudghton said that there was no reason to believe that there would no longer be an open border between the successor parts of the UK in event of independence and that there would be no barriers to trade.
“There would be no need for barriers to be erected. The very opposite in fact – it is in the interests of all concerned to ensure we still have border free travel and trade.”
The nationalist position is that Scotland’s membership of the EU would essentially continue, so there will be limited scope for renegotiating the terms of the CFP. “I think we would be negotiating from the basis of a smooth continuity, but crucially once we were a part of the EU as an independent member country, we would have the absolute right of input as a country to future reforms and treaty reforms,” added Mr Hudghton.
The discard ban had formed an important part of Mr Hudghton’s discussions with the industry and it was clear it had the capacity to have “serious unintended consequences for the fleet.”
He added: “There’s lots of challenges involved in trying to meet the new CFPs intention of reducing or eliminating discards and doing so in such a way that recognises the extremely complicated nature of the mixed fishery that we have around here for the whitefish sector.”
He applauded Shetland Fishermen’s Association for taking the initiative to travel to Brussels for discussions with officials and hooped that there wealth of experience could be built into the proposal as it developed.
He said that the new CFP empowered member states to take responsibility for the detailed management of fisheries. “That is an opportunity for the member states who are willing and prioritise fishing to get together and drive an agenda on the landing obligation and other issues which would be much more appropriate to the realities on the fishing grounds.
“Would we trust Westminster to best do that, or the Scottish government?”