Something Fishy about Richard Lochhead’s Argument
I have known Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Fisheries Minister, for over 15 years. Just as I joined the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, he was appointed the SNP fisheries spokesman. With the SNP success in 2007, he became a minister and is now the longest serving fisheries minister in the UK, a not insubstantial feat in an era of shifting political fortunes.
However, longevity in office is no guarantee of understanding how EU negotiations work. Let me explain. The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has just launched a pilot scheme in Aberdeenshire schools offering school leavers a 3-week introduction to sea fishing. On the back of this important initiative, I wrote to Mr Lochhead drawing his attention to the scheme and indicating that the initiative would almost certainly qualify for monies from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which has a specific clause to encourage new entrants into the fishing industry.
On this matter, as his response revealed, Mr Lochhead and I are in complete accord. Good. Getting young folks into the fishing industry is critical and using EU money to do it is all the better, given the damage to Scottish fisheries wrought by the EU.
However, one paragraph in Mr Lochhead’s response bent me slightly out of shape. I will quote it in its entirety, lest I be accused of misrepresentation (you can read the entire letter, which is attached in the sidebar to this blog):
As you will be aware, despite Scottish vessels landing 8% of the total EU catch, the Scottish allocation of the European Maritime Fisheries Fund only equates to 1.9% of the total funding pot. Once again, this represents a poor outcome negotiated by the UK Government for the Scottish fishing fleet.
Now, I too would like to see Scottish fishermen get as much EU funding as can be prized from the cold, clammy hands of the Eurocrats in Brussels. That is why I was pleased that the UK Government secured a rise in the relative and absolute share of funding from the EMFF. Scotland receives from the fund €26k for every vessel in its fleet compared with €18k for Ireland and only €15k for England.
However, this is not where Mr Lochhead is being disingenuous. The fund is not allocated on the basis of fish landings alone. If it was then the main Scottish recipients of the Fisheries Fund would be the owners of the 23 Scottish pelagic vessels which catch some 400,000 tonnes of herring and mackerel. Two other criteria are considered in the allocation of funds: the number of individuals employed in the sector and the relative share of the small-scale coastal fishing fleet. For comparison sake I have tabulated these figures for the top fishing EU member states (see below).
So why is Mr Lochhead being disingenuous? Well, in accusing the UK Government of poor negotiating skills over the Fisheries Fund, he fails to acknowledge that the fund negotiations involved not only the European Council but also the European Parliament. In EU terms, the funding mechanism was co-decided.
Negotiations on behalf of the European Parliament were led by the Fisheries Committee. The longest serving member of the Fisheries Committee? None other than the SNP’s Ian Hudghton MEP. During negotiations on the fund, Mr Hudghton enjoyed unrivalled access to the process and unrivalled opportunities to lodge amendments to change it. Did he? No. No he did not. Not a single amendment was lodged to change the funding criteria, to strike down the additional conditions, to refocus the fund on landings alone. Nothing, nada, niet, nowt.
Indeed when it came to the final negotiations with the Council, the nitty gritty, coffee in hand, tooth-pick propping up eyelids all-nighter, Mr Lochhead’s Group in the European Parliament chose as their chief negotiator, Raül Romeva of the Green Party. It is unclear why such an important issue to Scotland was left in the hands of a Green MEP from Spain, but it was. And he was no supporter of the EMFF - that much is evident.
When it came to the final vote in the Parliament, the SNP’s Group declared the agreed funding proposal to be ‘in direct conflict with the goal of more sustainable fisheries,’ and voted against it (with the honourable exception of Alyn Smith and Ian Hudghton). Had it not been for the Conservative Group, alongside other like-minded delegations in the Parliament, the whole vote, and the fund with it, could have been lost.
So when Mr Lochhead condemns the UK Government for securing only a modest rise in the Fisheries Fund, ask him how well his group conducted their negotiations in the European Parliament. His answer will be worth recording.