12 August 2014

S4M-10769 Economic Opportunities of Independence

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-10769, in the name of John Swinney, on the economic opportunities of independence.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Like Elaine Murray, I am going to be a bit of a parochialist, but I am also going to be an internationalist.

The people in my constituency earn their living in a variety of ways. Fishing is a long-running industry. Over the years, my constituency has been the site of the biggest whaling port in the world, and people travelled from there to the other end of the world. Today we have Europe’s biggest whitefish port—we are significant in the pelagic industries. Many of my constituents work off shore in the oil and gas industry and are getting increasingly involved in the offshore renewables industry. Agriculture is a very significant industry. We deliver the finest beef in the world—not only to Scotland but beyond, to around the world. We also have significant engineering interests. How are those various interests served by the present arrangements, and could they be better served in an independent Scotland?

We in Scotland have the longest coastline of any country in Europe. In fact, to give everyone a sense of how long it is, I point out that China’s coastline is only 50 per cent longer than Scotland’s. We are essentially a country with extensive and important maritime interests.

When one has maritime interests, one requires the ability to defend those interests. Do the present arrangements provide for adequate defence? We heard that there are going to be three new small vessels to protect the UK’s coastal interests. Where are they to be based? Here is a picture of the total number of vessels in the Royal Navy protecting our maritime interests that are based in Scotland.

That is not just a theoretical debating point. The Kuznetsov, the biggest capital ship in the Russian navy, was built in Odessa in the late 1980s, weighing nearly 60,000 tonnes, with squadrons of Sukhoi Su-27s and Antonov 41s, helicopters, surface-to-air missiles, seven varieties of radar for detecting threats to its integrity and 2,000 sailors on board. In January this year, it was moored so close in off my constituency’s coast that, even with my eyes, with hypermetropia, myopia, presbyopia, low-light myopia and astigmatism—only one sight defect to go and I will have the full set—I could see it. It was legally moored in the Moray Firth, outside the 12-mile limit, but inside our area of economic interest of 200 miles. I could see beyond it—further out—the Beatrice oil platform. That is how close in it was—we could all see it.

How did the Royal Navy know that the Kuznetsov was there? Well, the Russian sailors have caught up with the modern world and one of them advertised the presence of the Kuznetsov via Twitter. On the case at once—believe me—the Ministry of Defence spotted it and dispatched a vessel to protect our maritime interests. In only 38 hours, it got there to see what was going on.

How would such things have been done better elsewhere? Ireland has eight vessels around its coast. It has just increased the number from seven to eight vessels, and they are distributed around the rather shorter coastline of that smaller, less economically powerful country. Ireland also has a couple of aircraft, which could have gone out and sniffed and hovered over the top and seen what was going on. Our Nimrods are history—unreplaced. The Kuznetsov is also an aircraft carrier and, as I said, it has aircraft on it, which is slightly different from the UK situation.

Our other interests include agriculture. Our farmers get the lowest support of any country in Europe, not because money was not provided by the European Union to help farmers in more disadvantaged areas but because the UK Government kept that money, which came to the UK only because of the special circumstances of agriculture in Scotland, where 85 per cent of our land has less favoured area status, while south of the border 15 per cent of the land has less favoured area status. We suffer in agriculture because we are part of the current union. We could do so much better.

Fishing—if only I had an hour or two on that subject. We have seen our fishing industry suffer every time the UK represents fishing in Europe, because the priorities of the Scottish fishing industry are not the priorities of the United Kingdom.

Were we representing ourselves—even if our own minister occasionally got to speak in Europe—we would do better. An independent Scotland would certainly do better beyond peradventure.

We have heard a lot about currency, which is important, but even more important is our economy. The currency is secondary to our economy. If we do not get our economy right and we do not have a Government that represents our economy’s interests, my constituents will continue to suffer the effects of the United Kingdom. It is time we had independence, so that my constituents and people across Scotland can be properly supported in their economic endeavours.


Stewart Stevenson
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