The Deputy First Minister has insisted Shetland’s fishing sector will be in safer hands post-referendum if Scotland gains its independence.
Nicola Sturgeon criticised consecutive Westminster governments for branding the industry as “expendable” following her arrival in the isles today, just over three weeks ahead of the vote.
Ms Sturgeon told of the “frustrations” experienced by Scottish fishing minister Richard Lochhead in his attempts to secure an adequate deal for fishermen at Brussels.
The Glasgow MSP also outlined what she described as “very real risks” of remaining in the union, and the possibility of being taken out of the EU in a future UK vote.
Her comments follow recent fears that Scotland may be left out of the EU in the event of a yes vote on 18th September.
Pro-Union fishing leaders have recently outlined concerns a derogation protecting the UK share of the EU total allowable catch in commonly-caught species such as haddock, whiting, cod and herring, will no longer apply to Scotland if a yes vote is returned.
They have also been irked by a failure from Mr Lochhead to visit the isles and hear directly from local fishermen – something Westminster has achieved with separate visits from UK fisheries minister George Eustice and, even, Prime Minister David Cameron.
“Richard [Lochhead] spends all of his time engaging with fishing, farming interests and that includes the fishing industry in Shetland,” Ms Sturgeon told The Shetland Times.
“We’re determined … that engagement gets stronger, and I’m sure it won’t be long before you see Richard here again, engaging the way he does with the industry.
“The fishing industry is of fundamental importance to the Scottish economy, much more so than it is to the UK economy as a whole – which is one of the reasons we believe so strongly that, when it comes to representation in Europe for example, we’re going to get a better deal for the industries.”
Ms Sturgeon insisted there was a lot of support in the fishing industry for independence.
“Where the interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK coincide – if we become an independent country within Europe – then it strikes me that is only to our benefit, because instead of having one member state arguing for a particular point of view, you’ll have two member states.
“But where the added benefit for Scotland comes is where our interests don’t co-incide, and we then have the ability to make sure our voice is heard in a way that it’s not heard just now.
“Westminster governments down the decades have been known to describe our fishing industry as ‘expendable’ in terms of the bigger picture within Europe. I don’t think any Scottish government, of any colour, would ever see the fishing industry in that way.”
Ms Sturgeon pledged to listen to concerns felt locally that the recent ban on discards was too stringent given the rich diversity of fish in waters around the isles.
She added: “Part of the reason I’m here today … is to hear people’s views on the things that we, as a government, need to be responding to.”