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Viewpoint / Viewpoint: Brexit? A jump into the unknown

This is your decision. 

As with Scottish independence the people will decide.

As with 2014 you need the facts and figures on which to base a decision.

And now as then, the facts are hotly disputed. The figures even more so.

A white paper was produced by the Scottish Government making the case for independence. It was, for many of us, a work of fiction. But it did provide a basis for debate.

In 2016, the argument has been about the £9 million the UK Government spent on a booklet sent to every house, not its contents.

First then, the politics of the UK’s decision next Thursday to remain within the EU or leave.

When Prime Minister Cameron announced an in/out EU referendum it had little to do with the UK’s future and everything to do with the fault line that runs through the Conservative Party.

The Tories have been split on Europe’s future since Churchill. John Major’s government was riven asunder by Europe and Tony Blair profited. Margaret Thatcher’s demise was linked to Europe.

Tories remember Black Wednesday and the humiliating retreat from the Exchange Rate Mechanism that tied European currencies together. They will never accept Europe. The split will never heal.

Cameron’s 2016 Tory party is now fighting each other every night on the television. In personal terms: “Lies, deceit, traitors.” This is making the Scottish referendum look civilised by comparison.

Irrespective of the result, next Thursday will be calamitous for the Tories. I suspect that most people will not base their vote on the Tory splits. Instead they will be motivated by the arguments for or against the European Union.

The strongest argument to leave in Shetland is fishing.

There is little that can be said in favour of the Common Fisheries Policy. On top of a disastrous ‘one size fits all’ approach comes the implementation of fishing regulations by national governments and in Shetland’s case, the Scottish Government.

It should be remembered that the Scottish Government were chief cheerleaders for the discard ban – a ‘one size fits al’l policy that cannot work. But if we are outside the EU, would a Scottish Government drop the discard ban? A policy they have championed. I doubt it.

The strongest argument against the EU on fisheries was the disgraceful sell-out by the European Commission over mackerel quota.

The Faroese and Icelandic pelagic fleets hoovered up mackerel in EU waters without quota. What did the European Commission do? Reward them with quota. So no wonder our pelagic industry want out.

But if we do, we will want to sell fish into international markets. That will include Europe. I fear that the French and Spanish governments, under great pressure from their fishing industries, will demand tariff barriers to trade and access to local waters.

To avoid tariffs on our fish and lamb, we would need to stay in the single market while not being members of the EU. So we like Norway, would still pay into the EU budget, have to accept all their rules, such as a discard ban, yet not be involved in the negotiations or influence the decisions. That sounds the worst of all worlds.

The EU pays Scottish crofters and farmers £450 million a year. If we leave, that budget may be available to Scottish ministers.

But look at the track record of the Scottish Parliament on land reform. There is no residual support for agricultural subsidies that could instead, be spent on classrooms or cancer treatments. Agriculture will be a loser if we leave the EU.

On crofting, Brussels does more to help than hinder. The current shambles over EU croft payments is Edinburgh’s fault. The Irish Farm Commissioner responsible for the EU common agriculture policy has been helpful to farmers and crofters here.

The wider picture is important to Shetland. Our economy is at a crossroads as oil and gas changes as an industry. We need as much economic certainty and stability as possible. Every serious economic organisation, national and international, says the UK economy would be hit and hit hard by Brexit.

Our allies from Australia to America want us to stay in the EU. Those who want the UK out of the EU are led by Donald Trump and the right wing nationalist Marine Le Pen. Vladimir Putin sits in the Kremlin and salivates at the thought of Brexit.

We would not be stonger, safer or more economically competitive if we leave the EU. Leaving the EU is a jump into the unknown. We might land softly. But when I look over the Noup of Noss I always think it looks a long way to fall and the end result would not be good. Let’s not jump.

Tavish Scott

This contribution was originally published online on Thursday (16 June). We temporarilty removed it from the website after politicians from both sides of the EU referendum suspended camapigning following the horrendeous murder of Jo Cox MP. We re-published Tavish Scott’s article on Sunday.

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General Election - 12 December 2019