CAMPAIGNING for the hotly contested Shetland seat in the Scottish Parliament started in earnest on Friday when newly elected SNP MEP Christian Allard and Scottish rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon met with local fishing industry representatives despite the fact that no SNP candidate has been named yet.
Allard, who was one of three SNP MEPs elected in May this year, has just taken his seat as a member of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee.
After meeting with fishing leaders in Lerwick, he insisted nationalist MEPs would stand up for the country’s fishing industry for as long as the UK remained in the EU.
“As long as we remain in the EU, we will push, as we always have, for reform of the CFP [Common Fisheries Policy] to shift from a one size fits all fishing policy towards a policy which suits different fleets and different geography. Such an approach would benefit Shetland’s fishing interests.”
His time in the EU parliament could however come to an end as early as October, should the UK indeed decide to leave the EU without a deal by 31 October.
Allard, a French national who worked in the Scottish seafood sector for 35 years before being elected, said he thought that would be unlikely.
“We have been elected to stop Brexit. We can do that by making friends within the European Parliament. Lots of nations across the EU understand that the best for the UK would be to stay in the EU,” Allard said.
“There are a lot of things we can do together, and we have started to do so, for example the nominations for the head of the European Commission. Ursula von der Leyen isn’t elected yet but she is a remainer.”
He continued: “We are preparing to represent the people who have elected us for the next five years. It was important for me to have been elected to the fisheries committee, where we will continue to work on a fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.
“I have been working in the fishing industry all my life and I want better representation and more input from all sectors as to how EU rules will be implemented in the UK.”
Meanwhile another remainer, Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies, has been elected to chair the European Parliament’s fisheries committee.
Executive officer of the Shetland Fishermen’s Association, Simon Collins, said it was important to continue talking to the members of the European Parliament regardless of whether the UK was leaving on 31 October or not.
“Even if we are out by the end of October, we still need to talk to the EU, so Allard’s visit today was much appreciated,” he said.
Collins added the structure of the end of year quota talks would be relatively unaffected as the UK would either participate as part of an EU delegation or as an independent coastal state.
With talks over joint mackerel stocks starting in the week of 14 October, the UK may start these negotiations as part of the EU and conclude them as a coastal state, Collins said.
Scottish rural affairs minister Mairi Gougeon added: “The biggest risk of being dragged out of Europe’s single market – which is eight times bigger than the UK market alone – is that we lose our biggest customer base for quality Scottish seafood in Europe. That could spell disaster.
“The EU accounts for more than half of Scottish exports – worth £15.7 billion to our economy. Blocking Scotland from trading freely with the European Union post-Brexit could be catastrophic to businesses here.”