Modern politics and communities as pawns of politicians’ whims


By Sally Campbell

This has already been a momentous year following the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation (SCFF) formation 8 years ago and the year 2021 is only 4 weeks in. The preparations for Brexit, since live transport of shellfish products to mainland Europe are the main part of creel businesses, involved meetings with Scottish Ministers, Westminster and the UK government, forward planning for either No Deal or new Deal for Brexit. James Cook MD of DR Collin in Eyemouth has been forefront in this gigantic task. So the last 5 weeks have been particularly hectic, and it is soul destroying that severe difficulties are arising, outside their control. James, also SCFF treasurer, has been hectically busy in this, on news programmes and in complex planning to try and ensure smooth export at the ports. The unbelievable mismanagement of the government plans for Brexit shows a complete disregard for the livelihoods in the creel communities around Scotland and other UK coastlines. The situation is now so acute that it has resulted last week in a demonstration with DR Collin haulage trucks and others in the business of similar mind in London showing Prime Minister and Cabinet the consequences of their inactions and the effects “their” Brexit agreement will have on small sustainable fishing communities around the coasts which need unimpeded access to added value markets in Europe. The Democratic deficit in these recent decisions in Westminster are indications that there is a lack of dialogue and purposeful negotiations driven by populist tendencies, and our majority politicians seduced by their own power of slogans and misinformation fed to the electors over several years.

To quote from Alasdair Hughson, SCFF Chairman:

“As the situation developed in Central London on this January Monday morning every community around the coastline of Scotland will be applauding this vital direct action demonstration from within the seafood supply chain that supplies Europe with the finest seafood in the world. This demonstration of solidarity should further reinforce the message to inshore fishermen all around the UK that we are all in this together. It is heartening to witness the clans of Scotland coming together. This is after the tough year that all of these businesses have experienced, struggling to survive against the odds with Covid -19 and effects on markets. They are now being blamed for not completing forms correctly when they are all just trying to follow Government guidelines which are unclear and changing all of the time. Hearing a wealthy and privileged Tory Cabinet Minister and Leader of the House of Commons, making frivolous comments in the UK Parliament in some ridiculous attempt at playground humour on UK fish is the last straw for many.

If this debacle does not improve very soon, we are looking at many established businesses coming to the end of the line, with the effects for all who depend on them, including the hundreds of small fishing businesses in extremely fragile communities around our coasts. They rely on these trucks to turn up day after day, week after week to get their catch to profitable markets. “From Seabed to Plate”, fresh and valuable; and this is not an easy business. People put their heart and soul into making it work, often demanding ridiculously long hours. What else can they do but fight to make their voices heard? We need Government and Civil Service to step up to the plate like never before and help this industry survive and get through this so that we can all benefit when things improve. All we want is to get to work supporting our communities. We don’t have all the answers but there must be some and those responsible need to go out and find them ”.

The dozens of shellfish lorries parked near Downing Street and Palace of Westminster simply highlighted the disruption to exports of fresh fish and seafood that has been going on since the New Year. Red tape, logistical issues and disguised costs hamper post-Brexit trading arrangements. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab claimed on Monday that delays are just “teething problems”, a typical politician’s flippant remark to minimise the difficulties for which he declines to take responsibility.

Dozens of shellfish lorries from Scotland’s coastal communities have descended on central London to highlight the export problems they have faced due to Brexit.

This is not the first indication in 2021 that our politicians must be more actively held to account. Both at Westminster and Holyrood. A huge amount of effort through 2020, culminated in SCFF taking Scottish Ministers and Marine Scotland to Judicial Review in the Scottish Quarter Sessions on 17 December 2020 on the basis of their lack of inclusion in decision making on the part of sustainable inshore fishermen. On 8 January 2021 SCFF learned of their successful legal challenge against Marine Scotland. It is certainly so encouraging to receive the Opinion of Lady Poole, the Judge, and to read Marine Scotland Policy being described in the judgement as “irrational and their decision as so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could have come to it” – it does not get much more damning than that in administrative law. This decision goes to the heart of decision-making by Marine Scotland and their over-reliance on the views of a particular sector. Again this glaring Democratic deficit for sections of the inshore fishing industry is highlighted, and SCFF now hopes that Marine Scotland and Scottish Ministers will tighten up their act considerably in the next crucial period of fisheries reform. Following that landmark judgement by the Court of Session it is calling upon the Scottish Government to start managing our inshore in the public interest rather than for its friends in the trawl industry, The Judgement can be read here.

Sally Campbell
January 2021