To the Tories, Scottish fishing communities have always been “expendable”

Throughout the Brexit process, Westminster Tory governments have set up Scotland’s fishing communities as a bargaining chip in their Brexit negotiations.

They have been selling out Scottish fisheries again and again.

For almost 50 years, the Tories in Westminster have described Scotland’s fishing communities as “expendable” in European negotiations, and Boris Johnson’s Brexit only reinforces that attitude.

Here’s how the Tories have broken their promises, and repeatedly sold out the interests and livelihoods of Scotland’s fishermen.

“Expendable” Scottish fishing

In the early 1970s, the former Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath began negotiating the UK’s entry into the EEC, which later became the European Union.

Key figures in Scotland, and even the UK’s own Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, warned that agreeing to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) would lead to Scotland having a “weaker and less efficient national fleet” and losing over half of its fishing fleet.

Despite that, the UK government ploughed ahead – with government papers released 30 years later suggesting they did so because they believed the CFP would benefit English and Welsh fishermen instead.

In 1973, a senior UK civil servant wrote that: “In light of Britain’s wider European interests they, the Scottish fishermen, are expendable.”

Houses facing on to the Harbour in the town of Stromness, Orkney

Scotland’s fishing interests ignored in European negotiations

Throughout her time in power, Margaret Thatcher’s Tory governments betrayed and dismissed Scotland in multiple ways.

It was the government of Margaret Thatcher that eventually signed Scotland and the UK up to the Common Fisheries Policy, and continued a policy of trading away the rights of the fishing industry in negotiations – prioritising London’s financial industry at every turn.

Just like Heath, Margaret Thatcher’s choices on fishing highlighted that Scotland’s interests were simply “expendable”.

fishing boats on Shetland

The Brexit fishing sell-out

From the start, Theresa May and Boris Johnson have set up Scotland’s fisheries as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations – proving yet again that Westminster sees our fishing communities as “expendable”.

The Scottish Tories said they would vote against any Brexit deal that didn’t restore “complete control and full sovereignty” of Scotland’s waters. Now, it’s clear that Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal doesn’t even come close to delivering that.

New Scottish Government analysis reveals that far from having, as promised, ‘substantial increased opportunities in the future’, the Scottish fishing industry will have access to fewer valuable fish stocks (such as cod, whiting and haddock) than under the existing CFP arrangements – even at the end of the five and half year phase-in period.

Brexiteers have promised that getting ‘our own seat at the table’ in annual negotiations would result in gains for our fishing interests. With Boris Johnson’s disastrous Brexit deal, our ability to do that has actually been removed with the loss of leasing and swapping quota.

Despite all that, the Scottish Tories are now enthusiastically backing the Brexit deal with a fishing arrangement that they themselves, in 2018, called a “betrayal of Scotland”.

Yet again, Douglas Ross and his MPs are breaking their promises to Scotland’s fishing communities, only to side with Boris Johnson at any cost.

A boat

What they promised… and how they broke it

“Full control” of Scottish waters

The Scottish Tories and the UK government promised the UK and Scotland would have “full control” over its waters after Brexit.

Douglas Ross said: “any final deal that does not deliver, unequivocally, full control over fish stocks and vessel access will not have my support.”

What they’ve agreed to:

The Brexit deal states that the EU fishing boats will have access to Scottish waters for at least five and a half years, and the new Scottish Government analysis reveals this period may prove difficult to avoid becoming permanent.

There is no full control – nothing like it.

Annual negotiations on access and no “pre-existing arrangement” on quota shares

Scottish Tory MPs such as Alister Jack and Douglas Ross promised that access and shares of fish caught in UK waters would be negotiated on an annual basis.

Anything else, they said, would mean leaving the Common Fisheries Policy “in name only”. They promised no “pre-existing arrangement” would be in force, and again suggested they will not back any deal that fails to deliver it.

What they’ve agreed to:

Under the Brexit deal, the swapping of fish stock quotas with individual member states will no longer be allowed and leasing will be prohibitively expensive – reducing the quantity of fish in key stocks available for the Scottish industry to land, potentially putting jobs and livelihoods at risk.

A rural town in Scotland

The Tories are delivering the worst of all worlds

A Brexit hit to jobs in the middle of a pandemic and the biggest economic crisis in over a century.

A Brexit that creates major export barriers to the Scottish shellfish and salmon industry – as well as barriers for thousands of other businesses up and down Scotland.

And a Brexit, that in the Scottish Tories’ own words, leaves the Common Fisheries Policy “in name only”.

The Tories have repeatedly sold out and sidelined Scottish fishermen on our way into Europe – now they’re doing it again on the way out.