Siol nan Gaidheal


The Fishing Vote Crisis - March 2001


Whilst Siol nan Gaidheal rarely use any items from the Press, this was posted to the Forum recently and was, again, felt to be worthy of a wider audience than those who saw it when it appeared in the Scotsman newspaper on 12th March 2001. Our acknowledgements to Jimmy Reid, who wrote it. Are you sure you're not becoming a nationalist, Jimmy?

The Fishing Vote Crisis - March 2001

Old Labour habits die hard over the fishing vote. We cannot allow our parliament to be soiled by the cynical manipulations of ministers. Forget the constitutional technicalities. The fundamental moral principle of any democracy is that the people are sovereign and exercise their sovereignty through some system of universal suffrage. The people elect a parliament that is the custodian of the people's sovereignty until the next election. A government representing a majority consensus within parliament is delegated executive powers. The executive is answerable to parliament and through parliament to the people. The will of parliament takes precedence over the will of the executive. These principles are the essence of representative democracy. Where this concept is disregarded, the sovereignty of the people is challenged and democracy subverted.

Last week, Scotland's parliament voted to compensate fishermen in Scotland for tying up their boats for a limited period so as to safeguard haddock stocks in Scottish waters. In my opinion, this was one of the best conservationist decisions to be taken in the United Kingdom for some years. But that, in a sense, is immaterial. The Scottish executive chose to disregard this decision. But it has no moral choice as to whether it shall or shall not implement a decision made by parliament - a superior parliamentary authority - unless it chooses to resign. In this case, amendments that prescribed specific actions were endorsed by parliament. The executive is morally duty-bound to implement these actions. There are no other options available to it that don't exceed its moral authority.

That is why there should be no compromise. Talks about the permanent decommissioning of some vessels can take place, but not as an alternative to what was decided last Thursday. Nor should there be a package that in any way dilutes the original decision. Parliament was last week concerned with the preservation of fishing stocks as well as the jobs and communities that depend on these stocks. Decommissioning, in this context, is another name for redundancy. And If jobs are lost they are lost not only for those made redundant but for future generations. In the longer term, fishing communities could disappear.

Scotland is only as strong and as vibrant as its communities. The Highland Clearances replaced people with sheep in the northern hill lands of Scotland. The way things are going in farming, sheep could soon be cleared from these areas. Relentless decline ends in death. The decline and possible demise of fishing in our northern waters could lead to coastal clearances. Communities need an economic base. Without such a base, many Scots in the past were forced from their homeland and became the economic asylum-seekers of yesteryears. That is why Scotland is among the most sparsely populated nations in western Europe. Vast areas of our central belt are industrial deserts dotted with the remains of dead industries. Fishermen are not fighting for their jobs; they are fighting for the survival of their communities.

Maybe there has to be a reduction in Scotland's fishing fleet. But I urge some caution about a too facile acceptance of this argument. We accepted the "decommissioning" of our steel-producing capacity, and now have no steel industry. Scotland's renowned shipyards were "decommissioned" and we are left with a shrunken industry teetering on the brink of extinction. We produced cars in Renfrewshire and lorries in West Lothian, but these factories were "decommissioned". We once produced locomotives. That industry has gone too. The roads are jammed with cars and we need more trains to get people from their cars on to public transport. We no longer make either.

There was nothing inevitable about this. Scottish jobs weren't lost but exported. Home rule isn't an abstract symbol of Scottish nationhood. It's about saving and creating jobs, building strong and healthy communities, taking decisions, taking responsibility, shaping our own destiny. Parliament is the key. Executives will come and go, but parliament will remain as the fulcrum of Scotland's nationhood and its aspirations. We cannot allow it to be soiled by the cynical manipulations of ministers and any political grouping.

Labour has reacted to last week's defeat like a petulant child that has too often got its own way. It seems to believe that for it to lose a vote is a gross violation of the natural order of things. This is the political culture of a one-party state. Scotland is a pluralist nation. Its politics are pluralist. Its political parties must be pluralist in outlook. Many Labour politicians are steeped in the kind of travesty of democracy found in local government practices, where the Labour group had complete and absolute control, decided everything behind closed doors and then steamrollered its line through council meetings. Old habits, it is said, die hard. They now want to continue these arrogant ways in Scotland's parliament. If they get away with it, our parliament will be diminished and our democracy undermined. I suppose it's forlorn to hope that politicians mired in such a past should scale the heights of moral rectitude, but we surely have the right to demand of them a minimum of discretion in the display of arrogant idiocy.

A little footnote in question form: If foot and mouth engulfs the UK's entire livestock, will all the herds be slaughtered? Should Scotland's fragile tourist industry be sacrificed? Should British horse racing be undermined? Could there be a stage where it might be agreed that the current cure is worse than the disease? I'm only asking!

©: Jimmy Reid, The Scotsman 12th March 2001


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