29 April 2014

S4M-09836 Inshore Fisheries

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-09836, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on inshore fisheries.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): The most interesting speech so far has come from Rob Gibson, who illustrated a general point when he said that female langoustines should have their tails clipped and be thrown back but the males should be culled because they are utterly dispensable. I heard in his voice the influence of my wife, who says, “You men; you’re all useless.” The same is obviously true in the shellfish sector. One male shellfish in an area might be enough; the rest we can eat. If only conservation was so simple, but it absolutely is not.

Of course, the hunter gatherers that are represented in our inshore and offshore fishing communities are, par excellence, the conservationists who are most committed to ensuring that there is a future for fishermen and, through that, for their communities. Sons and daughters of fishermen will have a future in their communities only if today’s fishermen and the rules that Government surrounds our industry with promote sustainability. When we see other species prospering, we know that the stocks of food that they depend on are doing well, and therefore that there are stocks for our fishermen. There is no future for the communities around our coastline unless our inshore fishing succeeds.

Of necessity, we all have to eat in order to live, and fish and all the products of the sea are a great part of that. On Saturday, I was at a 92nd birthday party in the community cafe in Strichen, not too far from the sea, and I had the most wonderful huge, plump, tasty, well-prepared haddock. However, the inshore fisheries are delivering a great deal as well. I navigate my way round Scotland by thinking where I first tasted various foods. I had my first razor clams in Harris and I first tasted a scallop in Oban. I am sure that we can all think about places in that way. I first ate a fleukie at Achmelvich in Sutherland. I speared it with my own little bit of fence wire with a bit of string tied on to a cane, by standing on it, and then took it back to be cooked that night. I was a tourist inshore fisherman.

There are other species that have not been mentioned in the debate. Eels and elvers would be an example. They are absolutely wonderful additions to our food stocks, as are mackerel. I have fished for mackerel, standing on the shore and seeing the sea bubbling with sprats and knowing that the mackerel would be there behind them. With just a few barbed hooks on the end of the line and a bit of silver paper attached to each hook, I could bring out six mackerel with a single cast by throwing it into the mêlée.

However, our inshore fishermen and the industry fish in a more complex and properly regulated environment, not just that of the casual tourist. Rhoda Grant talked about the links between our industry, the provision of local products and the sustaining of local food-based industries, including our hotels and restaurants, and she is absolutely right. That is what brings people to our communities—local food delivered from local inshore fisheries. It is therefore important that we have a regulatory structure that supports that.

The Government did a particularly important thing in December 2013, when we brought into force a new regulation that protects the waters that are essential for good inshore stocks. At the end of the day, the bottom of the food chain, which creates food for others, is often made up of filter feeders that need good, pure water to prosper, and mud that has within it a good biological load that has not been contaminated by industrial pollution or sewage. The regulation that was introduced was the first in the UK. It replaced the European shellfish waters directive and was an important part of what our Government has been doing.

On the motion and the amendment that are before us, I will pick from the Labour amendment first. It recognises the vital role of inshore fisheries to local economies. Ye cannae possibly disagree with that; it is self-evidently correct. They make an economic and cultural contribution because when our communities are economically vibrant, they are also culturally vibrant.

In my final 90 seconds, I want to talk about one or two other things. We have not heard much about the mussels, winkles, and cockles that can also be gathered on our shores. For that matter, some Scottish products can augment things. Traditionally, top-notch lobsters would be cooked in champagne. I will propose something even better, which is silver birch wine from Highland Wineries. It is pétillant, if not quite as fizzy as champagne.

At £10 a bottle, it is half the price of a cheap bottle of champagne and it has local flavour that is absolutely terrific.

We all have local good practice. The village of Whitehills has the nearest really good fish and chip shop to me, and the shop has its own trawler. The fish are landed so close to the shop that the chef could go on his bicycle and bring them from the boat to the shop. That is the kind of thing that sustains communities and delivers for tourists.

Eating fish is enjoyable on the palate, but Bertie Wooster’s man Jeeves used to go away and eat fish because, as his master said, that equipped his brains to engage with the problems that Bertie Wooster faced. Let us all eat a bit more fish. The quality of parliamentary debate would surely benefit.


01 April 2014

S4M-09547 Scotland: A Good Global Citizen

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-09547, on Scotland: a good global citizen.

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

I will spend most of my time talking about the impact that smaller countries can have on international affairs.

Other members have referred to Mary Robinson, and I very much commend the work of the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice. The foundation’s work is in four parts: sustainable energy, climate justice, food and nutrition, and gender impacts. In respect of sustainable energy, it is clear that Scotland has a set of engineering skills that would enable us to work on that agenda. On climate justice, Mary Robinson came to launch our climate justice fund with the First Minister, and I had the great privilege of chairing that launch. We also have considerable expertise in food and nutrition.

I have spoken previously in the chamber about the gender impact of climate change. For example, 70 per cent of small farmers in Africa are women, and it is those small farmers who are most disproportionately affected by climate change. They are having to go further to forage for fuel for cooking and are having to carry water further to water their crops. They are the people who are paying the price for the international injustice that the western developed world imposes on people. We in Scotland are privileged to be part of the climate justice campaign, and can make practical efforts to help such people.

Tavish Scott has just spent a great deal of his time talking about two international bodies: NATO and the United Nations. The next secretary general of NATO is, of course, the former Prime Minister of Norway, which is comparable in size to Scotland, although it is a little smaller, and he is a man who will be taking the hardest decisions that can be taken. Small countries can do that.

Furthermore, who is the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations at the moment? It is Mr Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda—a country that most people here have probably not heard of and whose population in 2011 was 81,799. Small countries can punch well above their weight. Mr Ashe has chaired sessions at the United Nations on international trade and development, and on information and communications technologies. In the 71st plenary session, when he has been in the chair, the UN has discussed the international financial system and received keynote reports from a New Zealand-led committee. Small countries can do big things on the international stage.

It is worth commenting on Tavish Scott’s references to South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia, which is a country that is certainly under threat. The Russians went into Abkhazia in the late 90s and into South Ossetia more recently. When I visited Georgia twice in 2006 as an Opposition MSP, I met the Government there and actually got it to change the law in relation to language, which I was very pleased about, indeed.

I turn to some of the things that the Tories said. Jackson Carlaw, the Tory spokesman, suggested that other members think that he is not consensual, but when his amendment would delete a reference to human rights, that is to step away from consensuality. When his amendment would delete a reference to humanitarian operations, that is to step away from consensuality. When the amendment would delete a reference to democracy itself, we see a step away from consensuality. Finally, the amendment would delete a reference to global poverty.

Most astonishing of all, we heard Jackson Carlaw commend the work of Labour members at Westminster who saved that non-democratic institution with 820 unelected and undismissible members—the House of Lords—and the 650 elected members in the House of Commons from making the wrong decision on Syria.

Jackson Carlaw is in favour of Scotland having international influence, but he seeks institutional arrangements that would prevent that.

As a minister, and as a member of the UK ministerial delegation, I attended 25 events in Europe and around the world, and only once did I get to speak on behalf of the UK. It was at an economic conference in Poland, and was for the simple reason that the UK had sent only one minister—me. At other times, even when the UK minister is absent—as Paul Wheelhouse has found—we do not get to speak.

We have to move to a world in which Scotland can go to the important occasions, give what we have to give—which is substantial—and get the decisions that matter to us. Go, give, get. Until that happens, we will not truly make the contribution that we should and must make.


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