It is said that the best predictor of the future is often the past. That being the case, it comes as no surprise to learn that the Tories have – yet again – betrayed fishing communities across Scotland, including here in Orkney.
No-one has forgotten that our fishing industry was described by the UK government as ‘expendable’ during European negotiations in the 1970s. The Tories sold out Scotland’s fishing industry before, and they are doing it again – just as many of us warned they would.
It leaves Tory list MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston very much with egg on his face, having previously said he was ‘very confident’ fishing would not be used as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations. And just last week we heard his Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson promise ‘Britain will leave the CFP as of March 2019’ – how quick was that U-turn? Meanwhile Michael Gove previously said that there would be ‘a specific transition period for fishing of nine or ten months’.
However, the draft terms of the Brexit transition deal, released on Monday, show that the UK government has agreed to abide by CFP rules for the whole of the transition period – which only ends in December 2020.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation rightly says the Tory government move ‘falls far short of an acceptable deal’. “Put simply, we do not trust them to look after us,” they said.
The deal flies in the face of public opinion. A YouGov poll commissioned by the SFF in January found 79% of voters who expressed an opinion believed the country should exit the CFP right away or following a short bridging period to tie in with the annual round of Coastal States negotiations.
Just 15% said they thought the UK should only regain control of its waters at the end of a two-year transition period – the deal signed by the Tories – and 6% were in favour of remaining in the CFP.
Even among those who voted remain in the EU referendum, 63% favoured an immediate exit for the fishing industry or one after a short bridging period.
Overall, 79% of voters said they firmly believed that the UK should control access to its own waters compared with just 17% who thought the country should continue to abide by EU rules.
Now we know that not only will the UK have to abide by CFP rules during the transition period, it will lose the voting rights it has now. The Tories have delivered the worst possible outcome for Scotland’s fishermen.
The SNP agrees that the CFP has been cumbersome and unduly burdensome on the Scottish fishing industry. However, this is largely because we have had limited scope to influence or shape the policy. An independent Scotland in the EU would be well placed to help fashion a much improved CFP. Because we are in the UK, Brexit is inevitable, our position – retaining Single Market and Customs Union membership, but being out of the Common Fisheries Policy – is the best outcome for fisheries.
The is a regular column by local MSP Maree Todd, SNP. Conservative, Green and Labour MSPs have also been offered a fortnightly column in The Orkney News.