Clarity is needed from the SNP over its position on EU membership after nationalist MPs took opposing views on the Common Fisheries Policy.
That is the view of Tory candidate for the isles, Jamie Halcro Johnston, who has dismissed the pro-independence party as “muddled” or “desperate”.
He has taken his stance after two SNP MPs contradicted the party leadership and backed exiting the CFP.
Banff and Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford and Angus MP Mike Weir both signed a pledge by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) to commit to the UK coming out of the EU and breaking free from CFP.
However, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson MP, confirmed in a TV interview on Sunday that the party’s policy is for an independent Scotland to be a full member of the EU and signed up to CFP.
The CFP is a dirty word among many in the fishing sector. Chief executive of the Scottish Fishing Federation, Bertie Armstrong, has said that the whole of the Scottish fishing industry, from processors to hauliers, is “united” behind one aim – to come out of the EU and the CFP.
Calls have been made on the SNP to clarify its position, and the issue became the subject of fiery exchanges at First Minister’s Questions this week.
Mr Halcro Johnston said the row had put the SNP in a difficult position.
“It’s either muddled or it’s just a desperate attempt to try to pretend that the SNP are for coming out of the CFP,” he said.
“We know that they’re very keen to take Scotland back into the EU.
“But we understand that, particular in their key seats, there’s this large fishing vote that doesn’t want to be part of the EU.
“This looks like a slightly desparate attempt to try to placate that by mixing messages.”
Mr Halcro Johnston said the “whole tone” of the debate from the SNP on EU membership had been “quite strange”.
“They’ve had to clarify their position a number of times.
“The way I see it, the SNP want to make Scotland independent, and they want to take us back into the EU. They’ll do that regardless of the cost of the deal which the EU makes us accept, and part of that will obviously be around fishing.”
However, the SNP’s list MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Maree Todd, said the SNP had been consistent in its opposition of the CFP, and continued to stand up for the fishing sector, which she said the Tories had declared “expendable”.
“Our well known and long-standing view is that the Common Fisheries Policy has been damaging to the Scottish fishing industry. We’ve continually argued that it’s not fit for purpose and we’ve continually argued for a seat at the table to get something that is fit for purpose.”
She said the fishing industry as a whole was of “small relevance” to the UK government, but would be “massively important” to the Scottish government.
“If Scotland were an independent country negotiating for fishing rights, we would arguing very strongly for a very different package, not trading away fishing rights, as happened in the 1970s.”
But she admitted being a member of the EU meant “going along with the CFP”.
“But on that point I hope you’re looking into the signalling that has come from the Conservative party because so far, and I’ve said this very consistently, it looks very much like the Common Fisheries Policy might be the only European policy to survive Brexit.
“Theresa May, in her Lancaster House speech, talked about the EU not wanting to harm Spanish fishermens’ interests in the White Paper. They talked about the EU and the UK having mutual interest in fishing. It’s pretty clear that she is willing to trade on fishing rights again.
“Our firm belief is we would never have signed up to this in the 1970s. We want to be full members of the EU – there are some advantages to being in the market – but we would negotiate something different. We would negotiate something better because it’s so important for Scotland.”
In a statement, Mr Armstrong said: “The whole industry, from those who go to sea through the processors to the hauliers, is united behind one simple aim – our coming out of the EU and the CFP.
“Brexit offers us a huge opportunity to re-assert control of our waters and to establish once and for all a sensible, practicable new fisheries management regime.
“We as an industry have repeatedly stated that we will work with the UK and Scottish governments to achieve this, and we hope that candidates will support the prospect of jobs and security for our beleaguered coastal communities by signing this pledge.”