Thursday, 19 July 2012

The SNP changes tack

FAL has gone to some trouble to work out the SNP's timetable on the subject of the Common Fisheries Policy and, in the circumstances, this is information that needs to be widely known.

Let's have a look, shall we?

FAL Newsletter December 2003: 

SALMOND LAUNCHES BILL TO WITHDRAW FROM COMMON FISHERIES POLICY Banff & Buchan MP Alex Salmond has published a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons, which carries cross-party support, aimed at scrapping the Common Fisheries Policy. 

 Entitled the “Fisheries Jurisdiction Bill”, Mr Salmond’s Bill would have the effect of withdrawing the UK from the CFP and asserting national control over Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish waters. 

 “This Bill is one of only a handful in recent years which carries the support of MPs from every political group in the House of Commons – such is the upsurge in anger and frustration at the disastrous impact of the Common Fisheries Policy."

Or, in other words, in 2003, less than a decade ago, Alex Salmond was in favour of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the CFP. Whether that could be achieved or not while the country remains in the EU is, in this case, irrelevant. That was, apparently, his opinion.

On October 12, 2006 FAL held a fringe meeting at the SNP Conference in Perth.

At that time SeaFAR (Seafisheries Advisory and Reference Group) an industry government body, had just issued its Action plan for "A sustainable, profitable and well managed Scottish fishing industry within the EU".  

This was the title of the topic at the meeting with the added words - "Fact or Fiction?"

Richard Lochhead MSP, Shadow Minister for Environment, Rural Affairs, Energy and Fisheries had welcomed the plan but added that it would not work because the Labour-led government had not recognized the simple fact that Scotland's fishing grounds were controlled by the EU through the CFP.

At long last and seven years into our Scottish Parliament, the Labour-Lib Dem government has recognised the need for a strategy for one of our most vital industries. 

 However, the reality is that regardless of how many good measures it may contain, it ignores the elephant in the room, namely, the Common Fisheries Policy which will always undermine our efforts to take the industry forward to better times. Only when Scotland regains control of our own waters will we be able to plot a course into calmer waters for our fishing communities.

Clear enough and accurate enough.

In 2007 the SNP had this in its Manifesto:

A better future outside the CFP 

The SNP will continue to work for withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy and will not support any future European Constitution that grants the EU "exclusive competence" over this valuable resource. We will work with our partners to enlist support for the repatriation of fisheries responsibilities to member states. 

We favour national control over fisheries, which conserves stocks as well as the livelihoods of fishing communities. While we recognise that international cooperation is required in the management of fish stocks, conservation is not being achieved in the CFP. Our maritime neighbours Norway, Iceland and the Faeroe Islands all operate economically successful and environmentally sustainable fisheries outside the CFP. Scotland can emulate their success.

On July 31, 2008 Richard Lochhead reaffirmed during a meeting with FAL that the SNP and, therefore, the new Scottish government supported withdrawal from the CFP and restoration of national control over fisheries.

Well that was then. Since 2008 the notion of national control has been diluted somewhat.

On November 2, 2011 Richard Lochhead MSP. Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, Scottish Government was giving evidence to the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. The Report on EU proposals for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy was later published.

Q. 236 from the Chair of the Committee:

You would not wish to repatriate fishing policy?

Mr Lochhead's response:

No, our policy is to work towards repatriation of fishing policy from Europe to member states, and then allow us to work on a regional basis with other member states, where appropriate.

The questioning followed on:

Don’t you agree that the Commission is, in all but name, travelling in that direction? Mr Lochhead's answer was reasonably clear though one must forgive him the politician's phraseology: I very much welcome the direction of travel if we are able to get on that road and drive along it. That is why we are waiting to find out if it is legally possible. There are a lot of unanswered questions. There will still be some decision making at Brussels level. There is how the regional body is going to work and how much decision making they will actually have. It is a question perhaps you can ask me once we have the new CFP in place but, at the moment, we have great concerns over the principle that Europe lays down our seas as a common resource. We believe that these decisions should be taken at member state level.

Since then Richard Lochhead who, we must assume, speaks for the SNP on the subject has been talking more about the Scots "being good Europeans" than any straightforward notion of repatriating the fishing policy even assuming he knows how he could go about it .

2012 Your Scotland Your Future

“With independence we will remain part of the EU.” Richard Lochhead

 With full participation, we will be enthusiastic and active Europeans though we will always make sure Scottish interests are fully and firmly represented. We will also be able to communicate our often distinctive circumstances and needs, particularly in areas such as fishing, at the top table. We will, for instance, argue for the replacement of the current Common Fisheries Policy.

One would think that this idea of communicating distinctive needs and circumstances "at the top table" has not been particularly useful to the UK government who, let us not forget, tend to use similar words. Why does Mr Lochhead think that miraculously it will work for a much smaller country that Scotland will be, should it acquire "independence within the EU", another impossibility.

On May 18, 2012 Richard Lochhead wrote in Fishing News about reforming the CFP. Had he read or listened to the numerous briefings FAL had submitted to him he would have realized that reform is not really possible while the basic concept of the CFP - integrated EU fisheries is in place.

Finally, here is a slightly hard to fathom comment from Richard Lochhead, made during a debate in the Scottish Parliament on June 7, 2012:

  The debate has been dominated by the issue of regionalisation and bringing more decision making closer to home to regional bodies—and, I would argue, member states. I was slightly disappointed by comments attacking the concept of nationalising the CFP and should point out that the European Commission, the European presidency and other member states have a degree of sympathy with the idea of passing powers back to member states, not just regional bodies.

 What we would really like is a clear indication of whether the SNP is still in favour of pulling out of the CFP. Then we would like to hear how they intend to achieve it.


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