As the Member of Parliament for Argyll and Bute, a constituency with an aggregated coastline longer than that of France, I am well aware of the importance of fishing and aquaculture to the economic wellbeing of my constituency and communities around the UK. I am also very aware of the dangers faced by fishermen, with the community of Tarbert, in particular, still mourning the loss of Duncan MacDougall and Przemek Krawczyk when the Nancy Glen sank in January this year.
As well as having an inshore fishing fleet, we in Argyll and Bute also export huge quantities of shellfish—some of the best in the world—and we are proud to be the home of many world-renowned salmon, halibut and trout producers. This means that there are significant differences between the industries on the west coast and those on the east, but that does not mean that they do not share common ground. First, they both rely on guaranteed, fast, unhindered access to markets. Secondly, they need to be able to recruit the right people to crew their boats, and they need sufficient numbers of people to process their catch quickly and efficiently and dispatch it to where it has to go—much of it to continental Europe.
They also share common ground on their justified fear of what is contained in the Government’s withdrawal agreement, because that agreement does not provide the frictionless trade that they want and need, nor does it guarantee access to the workforce that they require. Arguably, most damagingly of all, it puts Scotland’s fishing industry at a competitive disadvantage compared with Northern Ireland. In short, what the Prime Minister is proposing does not guarantee a bright future for the Scottish fishing industry.
The fishing industry, particularly on the west coast of Scotland, is facing a recruitment crisis. I was very pleased to hear my hon. Friend Angus Brendan MacNeil raise that issue, because we desperately need the ability to recruit fishermen to work on our boats and in our processing factories.
As I suspected we might, we have heard a great deal this afternoon about the shortcomings of the CFP, and I, for one, will not defend it, but let me be clear: as I said earlier this afternoon, despite all the bluster and obfuscation from the Conservative party, it was complicit in the CFP’s creation and has been actively implementing it for the past 40 years. Since 1970, the Conservative party has been in power for 38 years. From Ted Heath, to Margaret Thatcher, John Major and the rest of them, the Conservative party’s fingerprints are all over the CFP.
Let the record show that since the early 1970s the SNP in this place has been the consistent and vocal opposition to the CFP. I can understand why that makes nervous listening for Conservative Members. Despite their attempts to position themselves as the champions of Scottish fishing, the truth is that Conservative Governments down the years have time and again sold out the fishing industry when convenient. Deep down, they know that that is exactly what this Government are planning to do again. I look at the sprinkling of long faces on the Government Benches, and their demeanour is very different from what it was a year ago, because the Scottish Conservative Members know that they have been hung out to dry by their own Prime Minister and that the promises they made to the fishing communities in the north-east of Scotland before last year’s general election are absolutely worthless.
I am sure that the Scottish Conservative Members will have read, probably through the cracks in their fingers, the article by Mure Dickie in yesterday’s Financial Times, when he highlighted the reality of what is happening in the north-east of Scotland. One Peterhead-based fish wholesaler told him:
“I think we have been sold down the river once again. It is an absolute disgrace.”
He is right—it is an absolute disgrace—but this is what happens when it turns out that the one-trick pony cannot even perform the trick.
It certainly did not take long for the “cast-iron” guarantees of the 2017 general election to become the latest addition to the shameful roll call of Tory betrayal of the Scottish fishing industry. Does anyone believe that had Scotland been in control of its own fishing assets in 1972 we would have allowed this vital industry to be treated as a bargaining chip in the way it has been for the last four decades? Only an independent Scottish Government can adequately look after the interests of our fishing industry; only an independent Scottish Government will recognise the significance of this industry’s contribution to our economy; and only an independent Scottish Government can be relied upon not to use our fishing industry as a bargaining chip.
The stark truth is that the glib and hollow promises made last year by career-hungry candidates wearing blue rosettes are now unravelling, because they were all predicated on a UK Government acting in the best interests of the Scottish fishing industry. History has taught them nothing. I look forward to the day when an independent Scotland, as a member of the European Union, can help to shape a common fisheries policy that works for us and is of benefit to our neighbours as well.