Angus MacNeil: The UK has failed Scotland's fishing industry before. We won't let it happen again
The SNP will fight against any attempt to sell out Scotland’s farmers, fishermen and crofters – and to protect our place in the single market, says Angus MacNeil
It is vital that Scotland’s farming, fishing, food production and forestry sectors have a strong voice to defend their interests in the face of a reckless Brexit being led by a shambolic Tory government. Without a strong voice, the consequences for Scotland’s rural communities could be catastrophic.
This is where I, along with my SNP colleagues, will play a role over the coming weeks, months and years to ensure the priorities of Scotland’s rural communities are front and centre of the UK government’s mind.
Continuing from the work of my predecessor, Calum Kerr, I will work towards ensuring all EU powers and funding for our rural economy will return to Scotland and continue to fight any Tory power grab.
I’ve spoken with famers, fishermen, crofters – all sectors of our rural communities – and they say the same thing: we need assurances, we need guarantees. Whether it’s over EU funding, the common agricultural policy or the common fisheries policy. Right now, we’re getting nothing but meaningless rhetoric from the Tories.
Our fishing communities know the consequences of leaving the Tories in charge, given they sold out our fishing industry with blatant disregard in the past. They need an unequivocal commitment that their livelihoods will not be bargaining chips in Brexit negotiations or treated, again, as ‘expendable’. When the upcoming fisheries bill comes to the House, we will continue to champion the concerns of our fishing sector.
The SNP has been consistent over many years in our criticisms of the CFP and very clear about our intentions to see it scrapped or fundamentally reformed. The UK government failed our fishing industry in the 1970s, dismissing the livelihoods of our coastal communities, and have regularly put the interests of fishing communities elsewhere in the UK ahead of those in Scotland.
As environment and rural affairs spokesperson, it will be my job to fight against any attempts to sell out Scotland’s fishing communities, and look to protect Scotland’s place in the single market to ensure that we can still benefit from free trade with our leading export destination for Scotland’s fish and seafood.
I want to challenge Michael Gove and David Mundell to join me in being a strong voice for our farmers and crofters, our food and drink sector, our fishing and fish processing industries, our billion-pound forestry sector – and all the tens of thousands of jobs, businesses and livelihoods that depend on a strong, sustainable and productive rural economy.
But while I want to challenge Michael Gove, I also want to work constructively. But he must demonstrate a willingness to work with the SNP; he needs to show Scotland that our rural communities are not just an afterthought to be tossed aside yet again.
Without Scotland’s historically low average farm payments, the UK wouldn’t have been eligible for additional EU funding. Michael Gove could pass this on tomorrow, yet he refuses. The UK government has robbed Scottish farmers of £190m and broken its promise to review UK farming funding allocation. I will continue to fight for this funding to be passed on to Scotland’s farmers.
Like most other EU countries, Scotland receives billions of pounds in funding from the EU, including schemes which are a vital support for communities. Before Brexit, the UK government promised to match current EU funding “without a shadow of a doubt,” but now they refuse to provide any guarantees over funding beyond Brexit, and want a UK-wide funding mechanism.
Brexit will mean there will be changes to the way policy might look, but it is my job – the SNP’s job – to ensure that any changes will not be to the detriment of our vital rural economy. Of course, we are not opposed in principle to UK-wide frameworks in certain areas – but this must be on the basis of agreement among equals, not imposed by Westminster.
Therefore, I look forward to working with our farmers and crofters, fishing communities and the food and drink sector, and together we can demand a fairer system where the UK government works with Scotland to establish a sustainable approach to the management of our rural economy for years to come.
Angus MacNeil is MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar and SNP environment and rural affairs spokesperson