Alex Salmond recently made his first trip to Brussels as First Minister of Scotland and met with four Commissioners, to discuss issues of major interest, and to explore the relationship of his new Scottish Government with the EU.

He made it very clear the SNP Government aspires to achieve the powerful independent EU membership status that other nations enjoy, exemplified by Slovenia╩╝s elevation to the Presidency of the EU in 2008. In the meantime it is important that Scotland directly engages constructively with EU institutions, in order to protect and promote the interests, such as fisheries, which matter most to our country.

I attended the First Minister╩╝s meeting with Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, where Alex re-iterated the SNP view that, just as Flanders leads for Belgium at the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers, it is logical that Scotland should lead for the UK.

"Regardless of Scotland's constitutional future, and regardless of the future framework of a policy which does the European cause so much damage and which would be better to revert to national control and conservation, it simply cannot be right that Scotland - with 68 per cent of the UK catch and the largest fishing zone of any single EU country - sits in a subsidiary position when these decisions affecting our communities are being made." said Alex.
The question of leadership of the UK delegation is a matter which is decided within the UK. There is nothing at EU level which could prevent a Scottish minister from leading, as the Belgian example clearly demonstrates. Of course our minister would seek to agree on tactics with counterparts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The reaction of some Unionist politicians to all of this was predictably pathetic. How could wee Scotland possibly manage without the might of Westminster weighing in on our behalf in Brussels? Labour MSPs and MEPs apparently think that Rhona Brankin being once allowed, by her London boss, to speak at a Fisheries Council constitutes leading the UK delegation. How ridiculous!

In practice, our fishing communities have been routinely betrayed in the EU Council of Ministers, with successive UK governments treating the fishing industry like a bargaining chip to be traded away in pursuit of other European objectives. Ted Heath's Tory government regarded Scottish fishermen as 'expendable' in the context of wider British objectives in entry negotiations to the European Community.

That couldn't-care-less attitude over fishing still prevails at Westminster, and the SNP government is right to make a stand on the leadership role within the current UK context. Ultimately though, only with independence will Scotland automatically have the right to full participation in the decision making processes of the European Union.

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