The agenda of the final plenary session of the European Parliament of 2013, in Strasbourg, included a vote in favour of a package of reforms of the EU Common Fisheries Policy - the culmination of three years of consultation, debate and negotiation. A little over ten years ago, I voted against the then package of CFP reform, because it did not include steps towards zonal management of fisheries. Ten years of over-centralised failure later, we have a foundation for the future upon which Member States have an opportunity to build, to determinedly push for more decision-making to be made on a regional basis.
The management of Scotland's fisheries over the past 40 years has been characterised by uncaring governments in London and an over-centralised approach in Brussels. This latter problem is being addressed to some extent. The EU has acknowledged its past failings and is proposing a more decentralised CFP, shifting some responsibilities away from Brussels back to individual Member States. Because Scotland's referendum coincides with the implementation of a reformed CFP, Independence will allow us to fully grasp the new powers being devolved back to Member States - and to help shape the new CFP as it evolves.
Scotland's fishing industry was initially sold out by the Tories during the UK's negotiations for EC membership, when the industry was described as "expendable". The next stage in the sell out came in 1983 when Margaret Thatcher's government signed up to the first centralised CFP Regulation.
Subsequent "reforms" in 1992 (under the Tories) and 2002 (under Labour at Westminster, supported by a Lib Dem fisheries minister at Holyrood) retained the Brussels-centred approach. Accordingly all three London parties are culpable for decades of failure.
Throughout the recent reform process the Commission has acknowledged the problems of an over-centralised approach and have advocated some form of regionalisation. The mechanism by which the CFP is to be regionalised is through the independent Member States, within a particular maritime area, submitting management recommendations to the Commission.
The new Regulation also envisages individual nations being empowered to take national measures, subject to regional agreement. The mechanisms by which the EU will ensure cooperation at regional level is, again, aimed at individual independent nations. With final legislative adoption, it is therefore clear that the independent Member State will have renewed significance within the reformed CFP. It will take time for the new mechanisms and power dynamics to be bedded in, and this will take place through the interaction of the EU institutions and the individual Member States.
Decades of over-centralised Brussels management of fisheries are, at last, being addressed by the current CFP reform. Decades of uncaring negotiation on the part of London governments can be addressed by independence. The precise nature of the power-balance within the new CFP has still to develop and it will evolve once the legislation is in force. Nevertheless, it is clear that the role of independent Member States is to increase significantly. The fact that the independence referendum coincides with CFP reform therefore affords Scotland's fishing communities a unique opportunity to help shape the new fisheries policy - and to ensure that Scotland is at the heart of that process. Yet another good reason to go for a Yes vote in September!