SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of treating fishermen with ‘utter contempt’ after the EU confirmed an independent Scotland would have to surrender its grounds to Brussels as the price of readmission.
Karmenu Vella, the unelected European Commissioner responsible for fisheries, confirmed that there was no way a new member-state could avoid adopting the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), in which fisheries are treated as a “common resource” and shared out by Brussels.
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party leader Ruth Davidson declared the Sturgeon’s policy was a “return to the despised Common Fisheries Policy – but she wants to pretend otherwise”.
She alleged the SNP were trying to “have it both ways,” on the issue, adding, “Scotland’s fishing communities will not be fooled by them.”
One thing @NicolaSturgeon can't get away from – we're committed to leaving the CFP. She wants to take an independent Scotland right back in.
— Ruth Davidson (@RuthDavidsonMSP) May 10, 2017
For a long time, the SNP’s policy was to withdraw the EU’s control over Scotland’s fisheries unilaterally. Former leader Alex Salmond railed against “the dead hand of Brussels mismanagement” which had proved “disastrous for Scotland’s fishing communities, the Scottish economy and our maritime environment”.
This commitment was quietly abandoned in 2014, however, in anticipation of an independent Scotland being able to use its fishing grounds as a bargaining chip to secure admission to the EU on more favourable terms than are normally afforded to new members.
Nicola Sturgeon, for her part, has emphasised it was the Conservative Party who judged that “in the wider UK context, the fishermen must be regarded as expendable” when taking Britain into the European Economic Community, as the EU then was, inflicting untold damage on the once-thriving industry.
— Fishing for Leave (@fishingforleave) April 26, 2017
But claims the Conservative fisheries minister Andrea Leadsom was plotting a “gigantic sell-out” of the industry and that SNP voices would be needed to protect it ended up causing embarrassment for Sturgeon, after the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation released the partially leaked letter from the minister on which the allegations were based in full.
“In fact, at our meeting with Ms Leadsom in March, she said that we are leaving the EU and we are leaving the CFP,” said SFF chief Bertie Armstrong, who was reported to be furious about the SNP’s “spin”.
Always spin in election campaign but the SNP line on that fishing letter is just deceitful. Scottish Fishermen's Federation are furious.
— David Clegg (@davieclegg) May 10, 2017
The SFF has been clear that leaving the EU and ending its jurisdiction over British fisheries via the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is “the only way of ending the farcical situation under which the country is forced to give away almost two-thirds of the fish from some of the richest fishing grounds in the world”.
Although around a third of SNP supporters are reported to have voted Leave in the EU referendum, no SNP MPs, SNPs, or MSPs publicly backed Brexit during the campaign.
Despite a resolutely pro-EU party line, however, some in the party have begun to break ranks. Former Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil recently confessed to having voted for Brexit in secret, claiming that “a number of my colleagues who have spoken to me privately who did the same. They don’t want to broadcast it. They were betwixt and between and they voted to leave.”
— SFF (@sff_uk) March 28, 2017
Two of the party’s representatives in the House of Commons, Eilidh Whiteford and Mike Weir, said to be “nervous” about losing their seats, have since publicly endorsed the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation pledge on Brexit.
Whiteford’s Banff and Buchan constituency, which contains two major fishing ports, is thought to have backed Brexit by 54 per cent. Local SNP councillor John Cox was one of the first figures in the party to push for an embrace of the “significant opportunities” which Brexit could bring.
Surveys prior to the referendum indicate that 92 per cent of fishermen UK-wide voted Leave.
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage predicted that success or failure in restoring Britain’s fishing waters would be the “acid test” of Brexit shortly after the referendum.
Acid test of Brexit is fishing. Government must now have the courage to take back control of our territorial waters.https://t.co/2hcfRwo1H7
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) August 11, 2016