Publishing yet another fantasy paper - “Our Marine Sector in an Independent Scotland”, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform, and Islands Mairi Gougeon, laid out the SNP/Green government’s make-believe plans for a glorious future, with our seas teeming with fish and bristling with offshore wind turbines. The glaring flaw in the nationalists’ argument is exposed in the opening pages, where the paper “emphasises the transformative potential of re-joining the EU for Scotland’s marine sector, highlighting the manifold benefits for industries and communities that rely on its rich waters”. 

Scotland’s fishers may have a different terminology for the so-called “manifold benefits” of the EU’s hated Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Although Scotland voted overwhelmingly for ‘Remain’ in the Brexit referendum, our fishing communities were among those most compellingly determined to vote ‘Leave’. SNP parliamentarians know that their fishing constituencies, particularly in north-east Scotland, will never support a return to the unloved CFP, which they claimed devastated our fleet and gave foreign vessels open access to our waters. Renewed EU membership would make the CFP mandatory for Scotland. 

Scotland’s fishers are still raging over the SNP/Green government’s contentious plans to designate 10% of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) where fishing, sea angling, seaweed harvesting, water sports, and virtually every activity would have been banned. The proposal was approved under the terms of the controversial Bute House Agreement between the SNP and the Greens, but the ensuing outcry forced Humza Yousaf to bin the plan as one of his first acts as First Minister. For years, our fishers have been accustomed to sea area closures implemented on a seasonal basis to protect spawning stocks, or sometimes temporary fishing bans to protect a high abundance of juvenile fish. But designating 10% of our seas as HPMAs would have been ruinous.

Mairi Gougeon appears to be oblivious to the controversy caused by the HPMA scandal. Her new paper claims that “Scotland has a strong track record in protecting our marine environment through our Marine Protected Area network. It is clear, however, that further change is needed to tackle the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. That is why we are also working with communities to explore ways to further enhance marine protection, and to taking action commensurate with the scale of the climate and nature challenges we face”. In other words, the SNP would seek to reintroduce HPMAs after independence.

The fishing sector is already facing huge challenges caused by inflation, the post Covid pandemic impacts, the spiralling cost of fuel and the burgeoning encroachment on traditional fishing grounds by offshore windfarms. They do not trust the SNP/Green government and they regard this latest paper on independence as a stab in the back, potentially dragging a reluctant sector back into the CFP, threatening the re-introduction of HPMAs and littering the North Sea with even more offshore wind farms, where most fishing is severely restricted or banned altogether.

Extolling the concept of an independent Scotland re-joining the EU, Mairi Gougeon claimed our fishers would reap the rewards of “gaining access to the biggest single market in the world and reclaiming those benefits”. She omitted to say that independence would mean creating a hard border with England, effectively severing our ties with the UK, the most successful single market the world has ever seen, which we’ve been a member of for more than 300 years and where we do 60% of our trade, three times more than we do with the whole of the EU combined.

The paper goes on, predictably, to blame Westminster and the UK government for everything. It states: “Existing powers of the Scottish Parliament and Government are also being impacted by a UK Government that has repeatedly shown its willingness to intervene in devolved decision making in areas like marine funding, and which seeks to lower key marine environmental protections achieved during EU membership”. Once again, the nationalist paper tries to hide the truth, such as the current scandal over the SNP/Green withdrawal of £33 million from the agricultural budget in September 2022, without consultation, together with a further withdrawal of £28 million last month, again without consultation or engagement. The SNP/Green government’s contempt for rural Scotland is a matter of grave concern and provides no confidence that they would protect fishing communities after independence.

A litany of disasters has engulfed Scotland after 15 years of SNP misrule, such as the cost-of-living crisis, an energy crunch, soaring drug deaths, a lack of affordable housing, failing education, the NHS in meltdown (with a health minister - Michael Matheson, who is a proven liar and yet refuses to step down). On top of all this has been the ongoing Ferguson Marine ferry scandal that has cost Scottish taxpayers a mind-blowing £600 million so far, with no sign of either of the two ferries being completed anytime soon, while our island communities suffer as a result. 

Mairi Gougeon and her SNP/Green colleagues would be better concentrating their efforts on sorting out those problems that matter most to people, rather than floating absurd and capricious ideas on Scotland as an independence wonderland.