The rise and possible demise of the SNP

Although the SNP came into being in 1934, it only achieved a modest degree of success until the two 1974 elections, when it grew from one parliamentary seat to seven and then eleven, including several seats in the North East of Scotland. In the next general election that area of Scotland went blue again and remained a Conservative stronghold until the 1987 election when the SNP took the Moray and Banff seats which it held for the next 30 years – often referred to as the Alex Salmond period.

The SNP unquestionably hit a peak in 2015, when it won all but three seats in Scotland. Two years later, however, the party lost two seats in the Moray Firth area while the Tories also took the prize scalp of Alex Salmond in the neighbouring seat of  Gordon.

At the start of Salmond’s parliamentary career he fully supported the fishing communities, just as those communities supported the SNP, both financially and with their votes.

For instance, here is an extract from Hansard where Alex Salmond brought in a private members Bill on Fisheries Jurisdiction:-

(756HC Deb 02 March 2004 vol 418 cc756-8)

Mr Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Union; to amend the Fisheries Limits Act 1976; to make provision about the exercise of functions under that Act by Scottish Ministers, the National Assembly for Wales, Northern Ireland Ministers and the Secretary of State; to provide that that Act shall have effect regardless of the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972; to define Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish waters; and for connected purposes. The Bill is supported by hon. Members of all eight political parties that are represented in the Chamber, which is unusual for a politically controversial measure, and, more important, by every fishing organisation in the country, both offshore and onshore.

And as Scottish First Minister, he later said on 29th. May 2008, when answering a question from Karen Gillan:-

“No one seriously believes that the common fisheries policy has brought benefits to Scottish fishermen or fish stocks. We are committed to withdrawing from that damaging policy.”

However, by 2015, the SNP position had become more ambivalent.  In a Parliamentary debate on 10th September 2015, Sheryll Murray, the MP   for Cornwall South East, said:-

“I notice that there are some hon. Members from the Scottish National party present. If one of them makes a speech, perhaps they will clarify their policy, which I am confused about. In 2003 the SNP MEP Ian Hudghton said that equal access to a common resource was fundamental to the common fisheries policy, and that no one could change it. Yet I remember that in the early days of my involvement in fisheries policy Alex Salmond, who was then the Member for Banff and Buchan, promoted a private Member’s Bill to restore national control”.

The confusion continues to this day.  The SNP 2017 manifesto expressed a desire to re-join the EU while at the same time saying,

“We will continue, in all circumstances, to demand the scrapping or fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy”

This statement is nonsense. You cannot re-join the EU if you advocate such a policy. Indeed, you would have thought that the SNP would have learned a lesson from the earlier Conservative demise in Scotland – you must not betray your core supporters. Yet this is exactly what they have done and the fishing communities have taken their vengeance. Salmond appears to think he will be back, but he will have to move well away from the coast. The Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has plenty of evidence to use against him if he tries to make a comeback. Anyone can access the Parliamentary documents of Hansard to read his statements.

On polling day Salmond looked grim and deservedly so. He needs to consider why he lost his seat.  For all those years he supported the fishermen, but then power went to his head to such an extent he stopped visiting his fishing supporters. Democracy has worked, but the Conservatives must take note too about what has happened. If they mess up the post-Brexit fishing policy, the Scottish Conservative bandwagon will quickly grind to a halt.

It is ironic that the talk over the past year or so has been about Scottish independence, and separation, but thanks in no small measure to the fishing communities, it is Scotland that has kept Mrs. May in a position to continue as Prime Minister of the UK.

Fishing the first Brexit bright spot as confusion reigns

Fishing photo

Are we going to leave the Single Market or not? And what about the EU’s customs union? – a subject that never cropped up in the referendum debate last year. Do some politicians even know the difference between the two?

At the moment, we are seeing a great deal of confusion about the future direction of Brexit and for those of us outside Mrs May’s new cabinet, what we are reading in the media is leaving us none the wiser. the quality of press reporting has reached an all-time low, with uninformed speculation given free rein and undue weight placed on off-the-cuff comments.

Take, for instance, headline statements that Emmanuel Macron, France’s new President claimed that “Brexit could be reversed.” What he actually said was “Of course the door remains open, always open until talks come to the end. But it was a sovereign decision taken by the people to come out of the EU.” In other words, there remains a theoretical possibility that the UK government might change its mind, but no more than that.  Given the shock of last week’s General Election result, it is hard to see the any rowing back on Brexit given that the consequences for the Conservatives would be the worst crisis since 1846.

The terms “hard” and “soft” Brexit have been bandied about with very few people knowing what they actually mean.  By and large, the terms relate to a future trading arrangement with “hard” meaning leaving the Single Market (or perhaps the Customs Union, or maybe both??) and “soft” means remaining in one or both. But what about criminal justice or foreign policy? There are “hard and “soft” issues here, which few in the media are picking up.

In all this muddle, one thing is clear. From what we could discern of Mrs May’s Brexit agenda, it contained some worrying and unsatisfactory features, including too close a link with the EU’s military plans and an ongoing commitment to remain party to the European Arrest Warrant. The loss of her majority means that she cannot force through her plans for Brexit if they are widely seen as flawed. Indeed, it is possible that we could end up with a better Brexit deal, given that pressure groups and their supporters on the Tory back benches will have a lot more leverage than if we had ended up with a thumping Conservative majority.

In one particular policy area, fishing, we are already seeing evidence of this. Scotland was the one piece of good news for the Conservatives in an otherwise dismal result and several of the seats they won from the SNP include fishing communities. Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader, campaigned strongly on the fisheries issue and has apparently spoken to Theresa May, insisting that the UK must leave the Common Fisheries Policy and manage its own waters right up to the 200 Nautical Mile/Median Point limit.

Given that Michael Gove, who has recently been appointed Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs , is the son of a man who worked in the fishing industry, there is every reason for being hopeful that the sensible post-Brexit fishing policy proposed by Fishing for Leave has a greater chance of being implemented.

So, amidst the current confusion, we are perhaps seeing the first bright light. As the dust settles, hopefully others will follow

 

Michael Gove’s Appointment – 200 mile Clarity Crucial

Fishing for Leave welcomes Michael Gove’s appointment as Secretary of State for Defra.

Press officer Alan Hastings said “FFL are happy given his family connections to fishing and his Brexit credentials and hope he does both justice”.

“Although Defra is not Mr Gove’s previous specialty his intellectual capacity should surmount not having had the Defra brief before, and we look forward to working with and engaging with him to bring him up to speed on one of the acid tests of Brexit”.

“Fishing can be a £6.3bn beacon of success for Brexit and can exorcise the betrayal by Edward Heath”.

“We must realise the opportunity to automatically repatriate all our waters and resources and to rejuvenate coastal communities with bespoke British policy that husbands our unique ecology, works for all fishermen and ends the policy of discards”.

“This opportunity cannot be squandered for the status quo to appease a minority of vested interests and the EU”.

FFL sounded a warning that, the deliberately ambiguous wording of the Conservative manifesto to describe the waters we will take back control of says those we have “historically exercised sovereign control. This deliberate choice of words can only mean out to 12 miles”.

“When international limits were extended to 200 miles Britain was already bound to the Common Fisheries Policy and therefore the EU automatically took control of our extended fishing limits”.

“Although the previous Secretary of State said the manifesto meant all UK waters Mrs Leadsom is now gone.

“It is now necessary for clarity and closure that Mr Gove and the Prime Minister commit to the entire UK EEZ out to 200miles or the midline”.

“We hope and wish Mr Gove every success in realising the opportunity for a triumph of Brexit and look forward to meeting with him to help ensure this happens”.

SNP confusion over fishing policy

The roots of the SNP lie in the fishing communities of the North East of Scotland. The recent desire for Scottish independence, in other words, was borne out of a desire to regain national control over fisheries, which by then were under control of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy.

Now, of course, the SNP seems hell-bent on securing a further referendum on independence in order to rejoin the EU after Brexit. That, however, would mean rejoining the Common Fisheries Policy – and on even more disadvantageous terms than the present arrangements.

So what are we to make of those SNP MPs who have signed a pledge that would protect fishermen by, in effect, keeping Scotland out of the EU?

Signatories include Mike Weir, the party’s chief whip, and Banff and Buchan MP Eilidh Whiteford. The pledge could not be more specific:- “We must avoid any policy, practice, regulation or treaty which could return us to the Common Fisheries Policy and the enforced giveaway of almost two-thirds of our fish stocks.” If this doesn’t mean staying out of the EU after Brexit, what does it mean?

True, the Conservatives, under Michael Howard, considered repatriating UK fisheries policy without leaving the EU, using the so-called “notwithstanding” clause which allowed the Westminster Parliament to enact legislation “any provisions of the European Communities Act notwithstanding” – in other words, to override the EU. Would Scotland, however, newly back into the EU fold, wish to embark on such a confrontational act, even assuming the Scottish Parliament actually possessed similar powers?

While Dr Whiteford insisted that the party’s policy “has always been consistent” in its opposition to CFP, the charges of hypocrisy levelled by Murdo Fraser, a Scottish Conservative MEP and fellow-signatory, are not without foundation. Ultimately, the SNP has a choice. Does it want to seize the opportunities provided by Brexit to rebuild the Scottish fishing industry or does it want to complete the work begun by Edward Heath in wrecking Scotland’s coastal communities completely by dragging the country back into the EU and thus the Common Fisheries Policy it was formed to oppose? It cannot do both.

Photo by stusmith_uk

Could fisheries prick the SNP’s bubble in Scotland?

The roots of the SNP lie in the coastal communities, especially the fishing communities that in the 1960s were safe Conservative seats. It was Edward Heath’s surrender of our fishing industry which  provided the impetus for SNP’s subsequent growth. Alex Salmond, the previous leader of the SNP, once put forward a private members Bill to take back control of UK fishing grounds of 200 nautical miles/median line zone during his first stint as a Westminster MP.

How times have changed! Power has gone to the SNP’s head and now they do not want to be in an union with the UK but want Scotland to be part of the Union of the EU.

But what would happen if, following Brexit, Scotland voted for independence and then re-joined the EU? The membership terms are unequivocal: Scotland would have to hand back her Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to the EU on the basis of equal access to a common resource without discrimination, and not increasing fishing effort.

Furthermore, the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy state that EU fishing capacity must be balanced to EU marine resource, and with the loss to the EU of the UK’s EEZ, even though Scotland would have its own EEZ, the loss of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish EEZs would result in the EU having to reduce its overall fishing capacity, but that reduced number of vessels would have to share in that reduced capacity – including Scotland’s EEZ.

So if the SNP were to take an independent Scotland back into the EU, it would result in a further decline in the Scottish fleet, finishing off the already devastated coastal communities that originally helped to create the SNP.

It does not end there. The territorial waters of 12 nautical miles come back to the coastal state through a transitional derogation which expires on 31st. December 2022 and would have to be renewed. With the rest of the UK out of the EU and our Accession treaty of 1972 (which was the main reason for the 12 mile derogation) now confined to history, why would the EU wish to offer a fresh derogation covering Scottish waters only? In other words, Scotland could find herself with the EU vessels fishing up to her beaches.

The SNP will huff and puff over this, saying they will negotiate, but there is no way out. These are the rules of EU membership. If, therefore, the SNP is so desperate to rejoin the EU, it would be at the cost of destroying the party’s roots.

The Conservatives, who are currently looking to become the main challengers to the SNP north of the border, would benefit immensely from including a clear fishing policy on the lines we have proposed in their manifesto. Who knows, it may enable them to recapture those seats they lost in the the 1960s and 1970s and tear the heart out of the SNP?

Now available: new fisheries booklet “Seizing the moment”

Following on from our earlier booklet by John Ashworth,  The Betrayal of Britain’s Fishing, the Campaign for an Independent Britain is pleased to announce that a further booklet on the subject of fisheries is now available. Seizing the Moment, also written by John, evaluates the options for UK fisheries following Brexit and proposes a policy radically different from the EU’s failed Common Fisheries Policy which will rejuvenate our fishing industry and coastal communities.

It is available to download as a pdf here (cover) and here (main text)

To order hard copies, please contact [email protected]