SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott has been appointed to the Scottish Parliament’s committee to scrutinise negotiations over the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Following a debate at Holyrood on Tuesday afternoon, parliament backed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s motion – with support from 92 MSPs and 31 abstentions.
It welcomed Scotland’s 62-38 vote to remain in the EU and authorised the government to hold talks with the UK, other devolved administrations, EU institutions and member states to “explore options for protecting Scotland’s relationship with the EU”.
Scott said he felt Sturgeon had spoken well during the debate, while Labour leader Kezia Dugdale “gave the best speech I’d heard her give”, leaving Tory leader Ruth Davidson in no doubt about the mess her party had left the country in.
“What she [Davidson] has not done is apologise for the bloody disaster that the Tory party have landed us all in,” Scott told Shetland News. “It’s nothing to do with the UK or Scotland and everything to do with trying to assuage the faultlines of Conservatism.”
He and the other Lib Dem MSPs felt Sturgeon’s approach was “sensible” and made clear that the motion passed by Holyrood was “about exploring all options which help Scotland in the circumstances we are in – it’s not about independence”.
“If it was about an independence referendum I would oppose it,” Scott said. “I’d be a stupid politician to immediately change my mind on that – what I do want to do is work with the government and with others to see what we can achieve.”
“Now they don’t have any plan in which they’d reduce immigration. What was deceitful was to make that argument then two days later say we didn’t mean it at all – no wonder people are fed up with politics!”
Sturgeon, who will travel to Brussels for talks on Wednesday, has also appointed a panel of experts to advise on EU exit negotiations.
One of the key questions for Shetland will be what kind of a deal the fishing industry can get, and Scott said he would like Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong to be added to the panel.
“That’s the one industry in Scotland that really does loathe Europe,” Scott said, “and you need to have them in the tent trying to work out a better way forward.”
Whalsay, where much of Shetland’s fishing fleet is based, voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU last week – unlike the isles overall, which voted 56-44 to stay.
Scott said he understood isles fishermen’s “loathing of a policy [the Common Fisheries Policy] that hasn’t worked”, but said the industry also needed to understand that the discards ban they oppose is being implemented by Holyrood.
Others say there are questions over the impact on non-catching aspects of the industry – with EU countries representing a major portion of seafood’s export market.
Lerwick Port Authority, meanwhile, could learn later this year whether its bid for European money towards a new fishmarket in Lerwick has been successful.
Scott said the funding could enable Shetland to build an “all-singing, all-dancing new whitefish facility that will be really important for the quality of fish we land, then export into Europe”.
The MSP also acknowledged a clamour in the agriculture industry to ensure that, if further crofting and farming powers are devolved to Holyrood, the money to maintain existing subsidy levels also follows.
NFU Shetland branch chairman Jim Nicolson said mood in the industry locally was fairly mixed.
“Though probably some farmers and crofters are quite happy to be clear of some of the red tape that came from the EU, I think there’s quite a lot of concern,” he said.
Existing payments should continue to apply until around 2019 but, in the absence of any plan from Leave campaigners, there is uncertainty as to what happens after that.
“It’s being suggested that agriculture and indeed fishing may be transferred to Scotland,” Nicolson said, “but will money be transferred to Scotland along with it?
“I don’t think there’d be anything wrong with [devolving power to Holyrood] provided that there was no less money being transferred than is coming into the rural economy at present.”
He added there was generally less animosity towards the EU from crofters and farmers than amongst fishermen because, with annual Common Agricultural Policy and other subsidy payments coming in, the benefits were quite visible.
“The other issue for crofters and farmers is of course the markets because, especially for the small Shetland lamb, currently the large majority are slaughtered in England for markets probably in Italy or maybe Spain.
“So again there’s uncertainty over that – obviously if Britain joins the single market then there won’t be an issue there.”