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27 September 2016

S5M-01669 Rural Economy (European Union Referendum)

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-01669, in the name of Fergus Ewing, on securing the interests of Scotland’s rural economy following the European Union referendum.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Thank you, Presiding Officer, for your confidence in the value of my contribution.

The Tories might be well advised not to try to fight previous battles. Mr Chapman referred to independence four times in the first two minutes of his speech and seven times in all. We have had an additional reference from Dean Lockhart. In last week’s debate on the economy, the Tories made 15 references to independence. I will focus on the subject of today’s debate, because that is what matters to people in rural Scotland.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation is absolutely correct when it talks about the opportunities that derive from Brexit. Throughout my political life, I have campaigned against the common fisheries policy—there is no change from this member of Parliament. However, we must be careful to ensure that Westminster is not allowed to sell out the interests of our fish-catching sector again, as it did when it took us into the common fisheries policy. A Tory Government did that and we cannot allow a Tory Government to do such a thing again.

I also agree with NFU Scotland, which seeks

“common ground on the major ‘red lines’ of future trade agreements, agricultural support and labour”

in its industry. I hope that we can make progress in the debate and agree that it is important that our agricultural industries continue to have access to labour. Even Scottish strawberries might be under threat if we cannot get people to come and pick them.

On fishing, which is the issue that is of most concern to my constituents, control over our fishing grounds is a must-win issue for fishing communities in Scotland and beyond. The chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which is roughly the English equivalent of our SFF, said—correctly—in last week’s Fishing News that the

“issues will be ... access (our boats in other nation’s waters, foreign boats in ours)”.

In the murky waters of international negotiations, it seems that anything goes. The internal negotiations in the UK, which generally involve decisions simply being handed down from UK ministers, illustrate that.

In the past year, we have seen a delay over the summer monkfish swap, which the cabinet secretary referred to; preference given to English white-fish trawlers on whiting and Arctic cod; top slicing of North Sea whiting from Scotland handed to the English inshore fleet; and an allocation of an excessive amount of mackerel—again, to the English inshore fleet.

When a UK position is determined, there must be agreement from all the jurisdictions that the issue affects and not simply a position that reflects the needs of one. Scottish ministers are well used to representing the UK and agreed UK positions on the international stage. A quick look at my ministerial diaries identified at least five occasions on which I represented the UK on a UK position. Of course, negotiations proceed in part along paths that are determined by the party that is on the opposite side of the table. That means that one needs a minister who is at the top of his or her game to lead on the negotiations.

As it happens, in Scotland we have some of the best negotiation trainers in the world. I wrote about their methods in today’s Banffshire Journal. If members want to read my comments, they can do so at negotiate.stewartstevenson.scot

Mike Rumbles (North East Scotland) (LD): I cannot wait.

Stewart Stevenson: The comments are excellent, Mr Rumbles, and are well worth a read.

If we are to give our industry confidence, we need the minister who leads on fisheries negotiations for the UK to have a bigger stake in the outcome than any UK minister is likely to have—we need a Scottish minister. That is likely to be good for UK fishermen outwith Scotland, because such a minister is much less likely to sell out fishing industries for some undisclosed trade-off, as happened 40 years ago.

Let us look at the position of the Tory UK Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell. He is a rich source of quotations. In The Press and Journal, he said:

“the idea we would go back to a position where we were entirely in control of our own fishing is not one that is realistic.”

Before talks have even started, Scotland’s fishermen are again being sold out by the Tories, just as they were during the CFP negotiations.

We must also consider the position of communities that depend on processing the bounty of our seas, from the artisanal smokehouses and processors in small west coast and island communities to the large industrial processors in my constituency and elsewhere. For them, access to labour and access to market are vital. The EU is the largest fish market in the world and it takes, in particular, premium products, which have the highest margins and therefore contribute differentially to higher profits, compared with other markets. Outside the single market, even when there is access to it, countries find it particularly difficult to export to the EU without cost and time penalties and without discrimination against particular fish species and food products.

Furthermore, without the many foreign nationals who work in fish processing, production must inevitably drop. We simply cannot staff the factories in the Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency, in Fraserburgh and in Peterhead without nationals from elsewhere.

The UK Government is as opaque as ever about its plans. There are emerging indications of what is called hard Brexit, to which other members referred. Such an approach would hit fishing communities particularly hard and undermine the advantages that would be derived from leaving the common fisheries policy.

In the debate, the Tories are trying to cover their failures by referring to other matters. What has got us to the situation that we are in is the blank sheet of paper that is the plan for Brexit, which is still blank. The Tories’ approach contrasts with what happened in 2014, when a 650-page document was produced that contained plans that could be analysed, dissected and attacked.

In the 1800s, the Austrian empire’s foreign minister, Count Metternich, said:

“Events which cannot be prevented must be directed.”

Brexit cannot now be prevented. It is time for a wee bit of direction from the UK Government. If the UK Government will not do it, we will tell it what to do.

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