Reflections one year on Part 2: Re-kindling the radicalism of Brexit?

He’s almost old enough to be their grandfather. He’s hardly a charismatic speaker and by all accounts, something of a political anorak who isn’t very good at small talk. Yet the young people seem to love him, treating him to a hero’s welcome when he addressed the Glastonbury festival. How does he do it? What is the secret behind the Corbyn phenomenon?

The answer is that he epitomises the revolt against the “establishment” which has been such a feature of recent politics in a number of countries. A serial rebel against his own party who doesn’t have a posh voice, he chose to spent two years abroad doing voluntary service overseas during his late teens and didn’t read PPE at Oxford. He has never worked in a bank or in the City of London. He is also a vegetarian and doesn’t own a car. In summary, he is the absolute antithesis of a “Tory Toff”, although a quick glance at his wikipedia entry indicates that he was privately educated for a few years before moving on to his local grammar school in Shropshire.

Given the idealism and anti-establishment sentiment of many young people, it is perhaps unsurprising that Jeremy Corbyn has become something of a cult figure and role model – a man who has not let success compromise his radical principles.

Now I’m painting a very one-sided picture of the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition, with good reason. We need to ask why so many young people so enamoured with this anti-establishment figure when a year ago, so many of them shunned the biggest grassroots anti-establishment campaign of our lifetimes.

People will give you all manner of reasons for voting to leave the EU, but undergirding most of them was this same anti-establishment spirit. Is there anyone more “establishment” than  Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission? If politicians like David Cameron, with his aristocratic, privileged background, are widely despised for being remote and out of touch with normal people, how much more the MEPs and bureaucrats living their cosseted lives in the Quartier Européen in Brussels?

Goldman Sachs was a substantial donor to the Remain campaign and Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England also supported staying in, along with the voice of big business, the CBI. In other words, the financial “establishment” so despised by the young – and indeed, the not-so-young on the radical left – were campaigning for the same result as their fiercest critics.

The victory we won a year ago was truly a popular revolution. While we had some “establishment” figures on our side like Boris Johnson (You can’t get more “establishment” than Eton and Balliol College, Oxford!), the real credit belongs to the thousands of ordinary men and women who tramped the streets distributing leaflets, organised meetings in village halls, set up stalls in high streets  and won round their friends and relatives in conversations down at the pub or sitting round the coffee table. A handful of hard-working fishermen made a laughing stock of pop star-turned-establishment figure Bob Geldof when they sailed their boats up the Thames to the Houses of Parliament.

Yet, for all this, the images of victory which appeared in the press on June 24th were dominated by older people. One abiding memory was to hear an aged World War II veteran say ecstatically, “I’ve got my country back”, as tears ran down his cheeks. By contrast, the published pictures of despondent remainers predominantly featured the young – with the cameraman’s focus almost inevitably drawn to a group of very pretty girls!

While it was a victory over a class of people widely despised many of today’s young people, they themselves saw the Brexit vote as their future being stolen from them by their parents’ and grandparents’ generation, with their outmoded ideas and mindset.

If we are to change the mindsets of our young people, the Brexit vote therefore needs to be painted in its true colours. We fought the establishment and won. We were the underdogs. We were (and still are) representing ordinary people and fighting against substantial vested interest. Just look at the sort of people who are trying to derail Brexit – Gina Miller the investment manager,  Michael Young, the new interim CEO of the European Movement – a former senior executive of the British mining finance house and Westminster insider plus, no doubt lurking somewhere in the background is the sinister figure of Tony Blair, a man despised even more by the Corbynite left in his own party than by centre right.

I can remember lying awake at night during the Blair years shortly after being converted to the withdrawalist cause. The means of my conversion was being handed a printout of an article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, which explained that the EU was actually financed by US spy chiefs. I was worried. If our EU membership was a collusion between the UK government and the shadowy American CIA, where was my opposition to Brussels going to lead me? Prison? A mysterious disappearance? Obviously, in hindsight, my concerns were considerably overblown, but it does underline the point that I and many other supporters of withdrawal felt ourselves to be engaged in nothing less than a revolutionary campaign against a powerful élite determined to pursue its agenda come what may.

Will the Corbyn bubble burst? Predictions to this effect have been doing the rounds ever since he was first elected and have proved wide of the mark, but if our young people do become disillusioned with him, there is another group of radicals that will welcome them on board. We voted to leave the EU to give the country a new future. Certainly for myself, this means a rebooting of our failed democracy and bringing power closer to the people though the introduction of binding referendums, allowing ordinary people not just to petition the government but to shape its direction and hold our widely distrusted elected representatives to account. Can there be any more noble anti-establishment cause than this?

Photo by DavidMartynHunt

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.

Restore Britains Fish

It is vital that the opportunities Brexit offers for our fisheries are exploited to the full. In my last piece, I pointed out that we should avoid any attempt to create a shadow Common Fisheries Policy. With the treaties no longer applying once the Article 50 negotiations are concluded, the Regulations which govern EU fishing policy will therefore cease to apply as well. This means that fisheries reverts to national control. In other words, the other EU countries will have no quota whatsoever unless we offer it to them.

In this article, I want to address another important issue. It is vital that we adopt the best practises from those countries who control their own fishing. Professor Philip Booth of the Institute or Economic Affairs recently produced a paper advocating the Icelandic model of fisheries management. I would strongly advise against such a policy. There is a much better model for us to emulate which is closer to home – the Faroese. Advocates of the Icelandic model, like Professor Booth fail understand the complexities of a mixed fishery in the relatively shallow water around the UK. Our fisheries are unique. Iceland’s waters do not contain as many different species as ours. Only the waters around the Faroe Islands, which share the effect of the Gulf Stream with us, are compatible.

Another reason for avoiding the Icelandic Model is that, like the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, it operates a quota system of weight per species per vessel. Norway is similar. By contrast, the Faroese system determines allocation by the number of days at sea. This is a much better system for a number of reasons which I will set out below.

1). The problem of discarding marketable species.

Discarding, whether at sea or to landfill, is immoral. However, with the Icelandic system, unless you can give every vessel a proportion of quota for every species, which is impossible, there will be discarding in one form or another. Even if you could come up with a complete quota system for every vessel and every species, inevitably one quota will run out before others. Of course, officialdom will try to devise ever more complicated ways to prevent discarding, but it is like a dog chasing its tail. It is unworkable.

By contrast, with the Faroese system, there is nothing to discard apart from a few undersized fish. Everything is sold and marketed

2) The effects on Fishermen’s attitudes.

In Iceland as much as the EU, whatever the authorities do to stop discarding, it is impossible in a quota-based system, even though it can appear solved on paper. In a mixed fishery, there is no way to avoid hauling up the wrong species for which a vessel may have no quota or have used it up. What do you do ? There are three choices, all unsatisfactory.

i) Keep them and sell them illegally.

ii) open the cod-end and let them go dead and dying back into the sea.

iii) Land them and incur a cost

A quota system puts pressure on fishermen to cheat if they are to survive.

Under the Faroese “Days at sea” system, everything you catch can be landed to be sold without fear of prosecution.

3) The need to report the catch

Fishermen play a key part in building up scientific data. They are required to report how many of each species they catch and where they were fishing when they caught them.

The quota system, which encourages cheating and discards, will inevitably result in falsified scientific data. After all, if you end up catching species for which you have no quota, it is human nature only to record to fish which you are entitled to catch. Likewise, if you catch a species that you have quota for, but caught them in an area you are not allowed. you will steam to the area where you are allowed and say you caught them there, which screws up scientific data.

Faroese fishermen, by contrast, have no fear of criminalisation. They have no reason to be dishonest and therefore record true data.

4) Fishing effort.

As was noted under 1) above, with a quota system, a given vessel will inevitably use up its quota for one species quicker than for others. In a mixed fishery, this means that when your quota for one or more species has been used up, a percentage of your catch cannot be sold – at least legally. This means lower profitability and more fishing time, along with increased pressure on fishing grounds.

A “days at sea” system means that you can fish without looking over your shoulder. There is one downside. The limit on the amount of time spent at sea means that fishing off the harbour entrance needs to be discouraged. However, with this caveat, the “days at sea” system is much more efficient as overall actual fishing time is reduced compared with the quota system.

5) Relationships between fishermen, scientists and fishery officers.

A quota system results in constant battles and lack of trust. Co-operations between the different groups is minimal as everyone is trying to outwit everyone else. By contrast, all three groups can work in harmony under a “days at sea” system.

6) Individual fishermen’s ability.

If fishermen are given a set allocation of weight per species, it gives little incentive to be innovative, progressive, or to improve. The “days at sea” system gives far more scope for fishermen to excel, benefitting from their own endeavours and maximising profit.

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Given the overwhelmingly advantages of the “days at sea” system, let us now have a closer look at how the Faroese make it work.

  • The harvesting licence is an operating licence issued to an individual vessel. The fishing licence specifies the details of fishing activities (catch and geographical area limitations) in which the vessel is permitted to participate, as well as gear requirements, requirements for reporting of catch data and information on landings or transshipments.
  • All vessels larger than 15 GT must maintain a daily log of their activities in an authorised catch logbook which is issued for this purpose, recording data for each set or haul and they must also have functioning satellite vessel monitoring systems (VMS) in both national and international waters.
  • We are constantly being told that because of straddling stocks, an independent UK must run a parallel system to the EU, The tiny Faroe Islands, however, has no problem in deciding what is best for its own fishermen and those who are allowed to fish in its waters. Faroese fisheries in other zones and in international waters have long been an important part of total Faroese fisheries catches, both in terms of total tonnage and economic value.
  • Faroese fishermen have a long tradition of fishing in foreign and international waters. The Faroe Islands have reciprocal fisheries agreements with neighbouring countries in the North Atlantic region – the European Union, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Greenland. These involve the exchange of fishing opportunities, including offering foreign vessels quotas and access to the Faroes’ zone in exchange for equal fishing opportunities for the Faroese fleet in their zones. These agreements provide Faroese fishing vessels with the scope and flexibility they need.
  • A number of fish stocks of great importance for the Faroese fishing fleet can therefore be fished both in the Faroese fisheries zone and in the zones of other countries and international waters. Managing and conserving these fish stocks is therefore a shared responsibility requiring close international cooperation between all relevant nations in the region.

The Faroe Islands have no resources other than the marine resources, yet they, a tiny nation of only 50,000 people, have been brave enough to introduce one of the most successful fisheries management systems currently in operation. Will we have the courage to break out of the quota mindset and follow their example?