9 January 2018

S5M-09732 Article 50 Withdrawal Process

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-09732, in the name of Joan McAlpine, on the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee’s inquiry into the article 50 withdrawal process.

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

I wish a happy new year to all my colleagues in the chamber except for Tavish Scott, who will shortly celebrate new year with his constituents at Up Helly Aa, rather than celebrate it conventionally, on 1 January.

My constituents are exceptional, too, as, perhaps more than others elsewhere, they are taking a keen interest in the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. That is because they, rather differently from most people in Scotland, can see a local benefit from our doing so. That benefit is from our exploitation of our escape from the common fisheries policy and the regaining of control over fishing opportunities in our waters out to 200 miles.

I referred to my opposition to the common fisheries policy in my first speech in Parliament in 2001, which was made on the day following my first swearing in, and members have heard me speak on that subject on many occasions since.

We only gain meaningful benefit from being outside the CFP if the exit negotiations deliver certain other matters of importance to our fish-catching sector. Catching more fish means little if we lose the opportunity to add value to an increased weight of fish through increasing our processing activity. Yes, skippers would be able to land the increased amount of fish directly to European Economic Area ports, which would probably mean Norway, and thereby make a gain. However, the bigger prize—and the bigger industry right now—is onshore, on our shores. It can flourish, and the entrepreneurial spirit is strong, but it needs fair and, essentially, timely access to export markets. Some products, such as the Cullen skink Scotch pie that I sent to David Davis for Christmas, are products that are designed for delivery by time-variable means such as the post. I hope that he enjoyed the pie as much I enjoyed one for my lunch on the same day. Other products, such our world-famous langoustines, halve in value if they arrive even four hours late.

Tariff barriers are currently less critical with the fall in the value of the pound, but if the pound recovers its previous exchange rate, they might again be an important matter. Access to market is what matters, yet we see no sign that that has a high-enough priority in the negotiations.

We have greater, if substantially less than full, clarity on migration. Our fish processing industry’s future depends on people from many nations coming and, crucially, being able to settle here. About half of the migrants who have come to the north-east in recent years have made a permanent relocation. It is not simply seasonal recruitment, but permanent employment. Alasdair Allan’s evidence to the committee suggested that 46 per cent of people in fish processing in the UK are EEA nationals, and we know that 70 per cent of workers in north-east fish processors have been migrants. They add huge value to the local and national economies, particularly in the north-east, which is an area of high employment where recruitment has long been difficult. They also enrich and strengthen our culture, substantial as it already is.

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, told members that the UK minister Michael Gove has a sympathetic ear to the issues around fishing and fish processing, and Mr Gove’s connections to the north-east of Scotland underpin his understanding. However, for the UK, the industry is a very minor part of the economy, and I share the concern of others that it will end up as a bargaining chip and that benefits that we expect will be traded away.

I listened with great interest to Jackson Carlaw, who is in soft focus for me today because I do not have my glasses—I have no migraine but no glasses. However, the secrecy, the exclusion of the devolved nations’ Governments and Parliaments from the development of post-Brexit policy and rules, and their exclusion from the negotiation itself feed a paranoia, justified or not, about possible outcomes. It also has the practical effect of reducing the resource that can be applied to the shared interests of all the nations of the UK—for clarity, I include England when I say that—in what is the greatest challenge to our future in my lifetime. I am pleased to note the consensus that has been referred to already that we cannot yet—I repeat, yet—give our consent as a Parliament to the UK Brexit bill.

However, the prospect of cutting off migration is the one that is worrying me most. Historically, the Scots are probably the greatest migrants in the world. The cities of Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk each have areas in them called Nowa Szkocja, or New Scotland, which is a testament to our outward migration in the late 1600s. Indeed, a Scot was the mayor of Warsaw on four occasions. The 2011 census says that there are 55,000 Poles in Scotland. They are our largest immigrant group.

Countries around the world would not exist in their present form without our citizens; Canada is the most obvious example. In my own family, as in others, it continues. A niece, born in Edinburgh, is now a Swedish citizen because of Brexit. Her brother will shortly be a Dane.

Leaving the EU and thus leaving the common fisheries policy, while remaining in the single market and retaining free movement of people, ticks most of the boxes for most of my constituents, as it does for Scotland as a whole and as it will do for all the nations of the UK.


Stewart Stevenson
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