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There have been far too many occasions in crucial EU negotiations when UK Ministers have been out of touch with Scotland, or have deliberately betrayed our vital interests. For example, our farmers and fishermen have been left to bear the brunt of poor decisions taken by Westminster politicians whose priorities lie elsewhere. The furthest reaching of these must be the disastrous decision, by a Tory Government, to drag Scotland into the deeply flawed Common Fisheries Policy – a betrayal for which our fishing communities continue to pay to this day.
When the UK was negotiating entry to the Common Market in the early Seventies an internal government memo infamously described the fishing industry as "expendable". It was the UK Government which agreed to sign up to subsequent substantive CFP texts, firstly under the Tories in 1983 and 1992 and then under Labour in 2002.
The latest attempt at reform of the CFP offers the potential to move away from the over-centralised approach of the past. The new law envisages a move towards regionalisation and enables fishing nations with a direct management interest in a particular fishery to cooperate with one another in the management process.
Furthermore, Member States are empowered to adopt national measures, a move away from total rule by Brussels diktat. Quite how these new mechanisms will work in practice has still to evolve but what is clear is that it is independent Member States who will play the most important role in this evolution, if they choose to give due political priority to the interests of fishing communities.
In this context it is very clear that an independent Scotland will be better placed to argue for Scotland's corner than a Westminster establishment which sees fishing as expendable. It is imperative that, as the new CFP procedures and opportunities develop, an independent Scottish voice is present in the Council of Ministers to ensure that our national interests are fully served at all times.
Agriculture too has suffered as a result of poor representation in the EU by government from Westminster. The former Tory Agriculture Minister Owen Paterson was the subject of a headline in The Courier which said "Defra doing Scottish farmers few favours in EU negotiations". The story related to a speech at a major farming conference, which illustrated how poorly Scottish farmers were likely to be served by the UK Government at the all-important EU talks on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
In a scathing review, the reporter said that the UK Minister demonstrated a clear lack of understanding of farmers' priorities. In the specific context of Scottish agriculture, and more widely on the way EU decisions are reached, we had the then UK Minister showing himself to be hopelessly out of touch with Scottish farmers just when major decisions were about to be taken. And, no matter how hard Scottish Government Ministers fought Scotland's corner, it was – regrettably – Mr Paterson who sat, and voted, at the top table when crucial decisions affecting the future of agriculture in Scotland were being taken.
Scotland's interests have been misrepresented by a succession of Labour, Tory and ConDem Westminster Governments in EU negotiations. Devolution, especially since the election of an SNP Government at Holyrood, has helped, in that we now have a Parliament and Government which is keen to influence decisions taken at an EU level. Richard Lochhead is working very hard to secure what's best for Scotland's farming and fishing communities from CAP and CFP reform, but too much of his energy has to be directed at UK Ministers in the hope of forcing them to heed the concerns of our fishing and farming communities.
Only a Yes vote for Independence will guarantee that Scotland's government can have a direct say at all levels of EU negotiation, so that decisions taken about Scottish agriculture, fisheries and other key national interests would better reflect the priorities of Scotland, and provide the best future for our country.