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Scotland is one of Europe's great maritime nations. We have over 11,000 km of coastline and 70% of our population lives within 10 km of the sea. Our marine environment is rich in sustainable resources and, by rights, our coastal communities should be thriving. But something has gone wrong.
Around Scotland's coast, our fishing communities have suffered appallingly as a result of decisions taken in London and Brussels. The Common Fisheries Policy has been an abject failure and has seen the demise of once proud fishing ports. Hundreds of boats have been scrapped and workers put on the dole - at a time when key fish stocks are at their highest levels in decades.
For these reasons, the SNP aims to return the management of Scotland's fisheries to Scotland. Following the example of small, independent nations such as Norway and Iceland we could manage our industry in a way that gives hope for the future. The CFP must be abolished and decisions be taken closer to the people that matter. It's time to bring fisheries management home.
Despite the fishing sector's importance to Scotland, successive London governments have been wholly indifferent to the industry's plight. Year after year London ministers travel to meetings in Brussels only to capitulate in the key negotiations, as happened yet again in December 2006. Scotland's fishing industry is regarded not as a political priority, but rather as a bargaining chip to be traded off in return for gains in areas of greater importance to London-based politicians.
Within the CFP, decisions are taken in Brussels by ministers from all 27 EU Member States. Ministers from land-locked countries such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Austria are all part of the negotiations and can trade vital votes for concessions in areas which matter more to them, such as agriculture.
Land-locked Luxembourg - with a population less than Edinburgh - has a vote, whilst Scotland's fisheries minister does little more than carry the bags for his London master.
The CFP, as 'reformed' in 2002, is based on the principle of equal access to waters and resources - ultimately allowing boats from countries such as Spain to plunder Scotland's natural resources. The current restrictions which temporarily limit this equal access principle, such as 12 mile zones, the Shetland Box and Relative Stability could be challenged at any time.
It's no coincidence that our neighbours in Norway, Faroe and Iceland have successful fishing industries and are outwith the CFP. These countries face many of the environmental challenges which are common to fishing nations the world over. Nevertheless, these countries prioritise their fishing industries because they recognise their importance to coastal communities. Similarly, an independent Scottish government would prioritise fishing - and there is no reason why we could not manage a successful industry just like our Nordic cousins.
The annual pantomime of late-night horse-trading behind closed doors in Brussels is no way to run an environmentally sensitive industry. National control would operate within a wider zonal context, so that Scotland would cooperate with neighbouring countries with interests in adjoining waters.
Decisions affecting the North Sea, for example, would be made by countries with fishing interests in the North Sea - unlike at present where ministers from Athens, Bratislava and Madrid have a say.
The industry itself must play a full part in fisheries management, not just be offered half-hearted consultation meetings. Fishermen themselves are the ones whose livelihoods depend on the long-term sustainability of the industry, and therefore have most to gain from a successful management regime, not the Brussels bureaucrats and London ministers who currently call the shots.
The European Commission is currently carrying out a consultation on a Green Paper on a possible Maritime Policy Strategy for the EU. Scotland has some fifteen percent of the EU's coastline and has much to gain from sensible measures designed to protect our marine environment, and develop activities in our ports and harbours, including fishing and processing.
What we must do, in devising any wide-ranging Maritime Strategy for the EU, is to learn from the failure of the Common Fisheries Policy. We must make sure that an appropriate maritime policy for Scotland is decided upon in Scotland, with Scots government ministers deciding when, and on what terms, to enter into co-operative arrangements with our neighbours for mutual benefit.