Alistair Carmichael is at it again. This time he says Spain is going to veto Scottish membership of the EU unless we grant them access to fishing waters where the Spanish fishing fleet doesn’t currently have full access. But the icing on the cod was Alistair’s claim that Scottish fisheries get a better deal from the UK than they would from an independent Scotland. Alastair said:
“Spain has long wanted access to North Sea fishing rights for its fleet as part of the Common Fisheries Policy because there are provisions within the CFP, which favour the UK fleet in the North Sea. I cannot think Spain would be very keen to offer Scottish fishermen the deal that they get as being part of the United Kingdom.”
So in other words, according to our representative in the UK Cabinet, Spain will veto Scottish membership of the EU, thereby losing access to the entirety of Scottish fishing grounds, unless we grant them increased access to an area they don’t currently have access to. Hmmm. That’ll make the Partido Popular really popular amongst customers at the fish counter in Hypercor.
The peculiar assumption underlying Koalamichael’s fishy threat is that Scottish fishing grounds aren’t Scottish at all. They’re European, or they’re British, or they’re Spanish. They’re anything but Scottish. Claiming that Spain will veto Scottish membership of the EU unless they are given a part of Scotland’s fishing grounds is a bit like saying that Italy would veto Scottish membership of the EU unless the branch of Domino’s Pizza in Paisley high street was declared Italian soil.
Naturally Spain is intensely interested in maintaining the access its fishing fleet has to Scottish waters. And that’s precisely why they won’t veto Scotland, because vetoing Scotland means that Spain loses access to much of the North Atlantic as well as the North Sea. And that is politically unthinkable for a Spanish government, especially a Partido Popular one.
However as a negotiator, Alistair Carmichael is clearly more suited to the depths of the toddler pool in Bellshill Baths than the icy waters of the North Atlantic. In this instance, it’s Scotland which holds the cards, not Spain – because if Spain does not cooperate with Scottish membership of the EU an independent Scotland could veto Spanish entry into Scottish waters, which would have political consequences in Spain that Mariano Rajoy could not survive. He needs our fish more than we do.
Throughout Iberia, seafood makes up an important part of the diet. Despite their many other differences, Basques, Catalans, Castilians, Andalusians, and Galicians are all united in their love of fish and shellfish. The Spanish fishing industry is huge, and as rapacious as the Iberian appetite for its product. Between 2000 and 2010, the Spanish fishing industry benefited to the tune of €5.8 billion (approximately £4.83 billion) in subsidies from the EU and Spain – far more than the industry of any other EU state.
The fishing industry is particularly important in Galicia, where Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy comes from. Well over 50% of the entire Spanish catch is landed in Galicia. The fisheries sector employs 4.6% of the active population in Galicia, a much higher percentage than in any other European country. It is estimated that 12% of all jobs in Galicia directly depend upon the fishing industry. In coastal areas, this figure reaches 40% to 50% and the economy of many towns and villages is entirely dependent upon the fishing fleet.
As well as being the home of Mariano Rajoy, who represents the Galician city of Pontevedra in the Spanish Parliament, Galicia is one of the main power bases for the Partido Popular who benefit greatly from their links to the owners of the Galician fishing fleet, many of whom are important donors to the party. Angering this powerful lobby is not a step that any Spanish Government is going to take lightly.
A Galician friend informed me that 65% of the Galician catch comes from the waters of the North Atlantic off the coasts of Scotland and Ireland. I’ve not yet been able to find a referenced source for this figure, but it is certainly a large and significant percentage of the total catch. According to Greenpeace Spain, the Galician fleet in the North Atlantic – excluding those trawlers who fish off the coasts of Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland – consists of 46 deep water trawlers and 194 longliners.
If Spain were to veto Scottish membership of the EU, it would instantly lose all access to a large part of its fish catch. The effect on the Galician economy would be devastating and the powerful Galician fishing lobby would withdraw its traditional support for the Partido Popular. Meanwhile shoppers across Spain would be deprived of their bacalao and merluza, and the politicians they’ll blame for that would be the ones who decided to veto Scottish EU membership in the hope of getting a bigger slice of our fish cake.
Alistair’s claim that Spain would veto Scottish membership of the EU unless we allow them even greater access to our fishing grounds does not hold water, and neither does his claim that Scotland’s fishing industry benefits from Westminster rule.
Westminster has mismanaged the Scottish fishing industry and used its interests as a bargaining chip to be traded away for benefits to the farming industry in the south. Tory PM Ted Heath infamously traded away Scottish fishing rights in return for agricultural subsidies for large southern English farmers in 1973, and Westminster has pursued similar policies ever since.
According to figures from the Scottish Government, Scotland receives just 41% of the UK’s European Fisheries Fund allocation despite accounting for 87% of the total value of UK fish landings – 37% of the total EU Total Allowable Catch (TAC). Scotland receives just 1.1% of European fisheries funding although the Scottish fleet lands 7% of the total EU catch of wild fish and 12% of European aquaculture production.
The only way that Scotland can protect its fishing industry is through independence. Alistair Carmichael is clearly not up to the task – he’s a man who doesn’t recognise a bargaining chip when it comes in the form of a wet cod slapping him across the face.