As night follows day, we have headlines about the “betrayal” of “Scottish fishermen”, generated by the industry’s barons and politicians who seek favour in their court, WRITES BRIAN WILSON.

Betrayal, con-trick, sold down the river… we’ve been hearing it for decades; inside and outside the EU, whoever was in government.

The audience for these rituals is never meant to notice (and generally doesn’t because it is a complex subject) that despite all of the above, our Scottish fishing barons become even richer and more powerful.

Five families control almost half of Scotland’s  quotas. Before the law took an interest, it was reckoned more “black fish” was landed in Scotland than under EU quotas.

While the barons prospered mightily, it has been a different story in many of Scotland’s traditional fishing communities which were marginalised under the CFP and survive largely on shellfish.

For them, increased quota is a far less  significant issue than access to markets.  The real damage to these Scottish fishermen and businesses would have been from “no deal”  with the EU. Why would anyone, at this juncture, vote for that?

Whatever one thinks of Brexit, a fishing deal that gives increased quotas, a five year transition to full control of UK waters and – critically – continuing access to EU markets is a betrayal of nothing. The question is whether Scotland will  take advantage of these opportunities – not a word we hear much of.

The real con-trick is the pretence there is a single entity called “the Scottish fishing industry” rather than a series of regional  industries which, historically and currently, have  different and often conflicting interests.  This is largely disguised by rhetoric from the most powerful.

This dichotomy is reflected in the Western Isles, where I live  –  which is why most fishermen here voted for Brexit.  They saw an opportunity for decades of disadvantage to be reversed if lost rights could be restored.

The same applies in many parts of Scotland which associate the decline of  local, non-intensive fishing industries with a more general  economic malaise and lack of employment  opportunities.

Hector Stewart, who owns Kallin Shellfish in Uist, has spent a lifetime in the industry, sees the deal as “not a big win, but a win”  with five years to build capacity in order to  take advantage of increased access – if it exists. But will it ? That will not now depend on Brussels or London, but Edinburgh.

At present, local fishermen have no quota for the vast stocks of herring and mackerel west of the Hebrides which are fished by boats from the north-east of Scotland, Shetland and Ireland.   The same goes for most species of white fish. The islands are spectators to the vast wealth taken from their own waters.

The  spiral of decline has wiped out career prospects in  the local  fishing industry and contributed to out-migration  by the young.   What’s left is highly dependent on migrant labour. These deceptive words “the Scottish fishing industry” really do conceal a multitude of sins.

Last year, an Oban-registered boat hit rocks in Shetland. A quintessentially Scottish story? –  except she was Spanish-owned and, when the Coastguards arrived, nobody  on board spoke English.  The Ullapool-registered boat which spent months within sight of our house destroying crab stocks, before moving on, is Chinese-owned and foreign-crewed. And so it goes  on.

As  Hector said: “Brexit can give us what we need in terms of access to a resource but we still need people.  We need training and investment if we are going to seize  the opportunity over the next five years. It can transform the islands economy but we need a plan” .

Indeed we do.  What a great challenge for a Minister who could see opportunity rather than grievance, challenge the power of vested Scottish interests and lead a revival of coastal communities, based on the new freedom to apportion resources.

Is there any chance of it happening? Almost certainly not.


Among childhood memories, I associate New Year with exciting trips to Glasgow for Celtic –Rangers games.  Whenever tickets could be secured, my father would take us  to Celtic Park just as for many other games.

The word “danger” did not occur. We lived in Dunoon and getting to the game and back was a tight fit – the ferry to Gourock, a train to Glasgow and leave shortly before the final whistle to walk back into Central Station and the 5.20  train which would connect with the last ferry.

In retrospect, it was pretty astonishing. Celtic Park in these days crammed in over 80,000 souls. At any big game, movement of the crowd was like a tide of humanity. It relied  entirely on  self-policing with children protected even when our feet barely touched the ground.  Somehow, it worked and few thought anything of it.

When the New Year fixture was at Ibrox, we didn’t go, probably because there was no chance of tickets. But of course, many of my Rangers-supporting contemporaries made the same journey, same ferry, same train.

On January 2nd 1972, one of them, George Irwin, did not come back. A boy who left home to see a football match died, with 65 others, in the Ibrox Disaster. The self-policing was overwhelmed and the crush of the crowd did what it had always been capable of.

While there were historic issues with Stairway 13, the truth was the same could have happened at any stadium which accommodated huge crowds.  For the grimmest of reasons, Scotland was at the forefront of stadium safety reforms, based on recommendations from the Wheatley Inquiry.

There are still lessons to be learned – a sense of perspective among them while football can never forget that safety is its own highest obligation.

One comment

  1. Disagree entirely Brian. You’re too close to being arm in arm with the Tories not to see that nothing has changed for the fishermen. Taking back our waters, taking back control, aye right Brian.

    And you know what, the fishermen know it and their spokesperson, a Mrs MacDonald has just come out and said so.

    You’re coming across as a cheerleader for Boris and the boys Brian. But that I suppose is what New Labour and Unionist politics is all about.

Leave a Reply