Speech-Sea of Opportunity

Text of speech in the Scottish Parliament debate - A Sea of Opportunity

17 January 2017

Rhoda Grant :

I congratulate Stewart Stevenson on securing this debate, which pays tribute to the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s work on behalf of its members to promote sustainable fisheries in Scotland.

I did not agree with the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation about leaving the EU—indeed those of us who did not want Brexit still harbour regret and a real and abiding worry about where Brexit leaves us—but I agree that we must all secure the best possible deal for the UK and thereby for Scotland.

Although we disagree that a Scottish Government minister should lead negotiations on behalf of the UK, we agree that the Scottish ministers must be involved.

If we believe in democracy, we cannot believe that Scottish ministers should lead negotiations on behalf of the whole of the UK.

If they did that, it would create a democratic deficit for fishers in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

How can their interests be represented by someone who was not elected by them and is therefore not democratically answerable to them?

We would not stand for that, so why should we expect them to do so?

Dr Allan: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: Will the member take an intervention?

Rhoda Grant:

May I make progress?

Everyone needs their voice heard and, whether we like it or not, the UK Government is elected by the whole of the UK and has a direct democratic link to the whole of the UK.

It is therefore incumbent on the UK Government to represent the interests of the whole of the UK, as the nation state.

If we are to get the best outcome from the negotiations, we must also involve the devolved Governments.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has said:

“We intend to secure the best possible deal for Scottish fishers, irrespective of constitutional developments, and believe that the two governments working together would produce the best possible outcome for fishers on both sides of the border.”

I absolutely agree that our Governments should be working together for that.

Stewart Stevenson: When Jack McConnell represented the UK at a European council, on behalf of all the countries and Governments of the UK, was that illegitimate?
For that matter, was it illegitimate for many of the current ministerial team to do similarly, as they have done? There is nothing novel whatever about such an approach.

Rhoda Grant:

What I said in no way contradicts that. Scottish ministers should be involved; what I said is that they cannot democratically represent other parts of the UK.

It is for the UK to lead and for Scottish Government ministers to be there to make an input and to offer support, where relevant.

The process has to be led by UK ministers, because we must abide by the constitution of our country.

The SNP Government is using the threat of an independence referendum in its Brexit negotiating position.

I really dislike that.

It is a bit like a spoilt child who says, “I’ll take my ball away if you don’t play by my rules.”

This is a job not for spoilt children but for mature adults, working together for the good of our nation.

I welcome the ruling out of another referendum this year, but we need to remove the threat for a generation.

It is important that that happens.

Of course, there are opportunities for the UK from Brexit.

We will have more control of the seas to the 200-mile limit, and we hope that in that regard the powers to manage fisheries will remain devolved.

We will also have the opportunity to manage the asset better, for the good of our coastal communities.

We must bear in mind the fact that fishing traditions differ a lot between communities and we must ensure that all coastal communities have access to good-quality fisheries.

That is about not just where we fish but how we fish.

Our fishers have been at the forefront of developing sustainable fishing methods, but we need to acknowledge that often that has been in response to European fisheries restrictions.

We should continue the good work even if the stick has been removed; the carrot is a sustainable, efficient fishery for ourselves and future generations.

It is also in fishers’ interest to maintain stocks for commercial purposes.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, and indeed all Scots, want both their Governments to work together to maximise the benefits and diminish the challenges of Brexit.

It is incumbent on us all to work together to achieve that.