SCOTLAND’S newest political force, the Fishing Party, is to let the mainstream parties off the hook in the battle for votes at the Scottish Parliamentary elections, it was revealed yesterday.
The organisers of the single-issue party - formed by skippers and other industry leaders furious at what they regard as the political betrayal of their industry - plan to field candidates for only the regional list seats in the north-east of Scotland, leaving the traditional parties to fight it out at constituency level.
They do not even intend to put up a candidate in Banff and Buchan, the constituency in the heart of Scotland’s fishing industry, where Stewart Stevenson is the sitting Scottish National Party MSP.
George Geddes, who resigned as vice-chairman of the powerful Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association (SWFPA) to become the party’s convener, yesterday defended the Fishing Party’s decision to fight shy of the constituency battles at the official launch of the new political group in Peterhead.
Mr Geddes, who hailed the formation of the party as the "dawn of a new era" in Scottish politics, said: "The regime agreed by our ministers at the Fisheries Council in December has left the fishermen of Scotland with no other option than to stand up and be counted. And we see the formation of the Fishing Party as the first step in our fight back."
He stressed: "We don’t plan to give any political party an out. What we plan to do is to encourage people to vote for their local MSP, whichever political party he or she may represent. We feel our best chance of success is through the regional list and it is our intention to convince the voters to use their second vote for the Fishing Party.
"This isn’t a battle between political parties. This is about ensuring that people in Scotland hear about the plight of the fishing industry."
But the new party was last night denounced as a "distraction" by the Scottish National Party and the leaders of a number of fishing organisations.
Richard Lochhead, the SNP’s fisheries spokesman, said: "George Geddes and his colleagues are blaming the parliament for the industry’s ills, but it is quite clearly the government’s ministers who are out to destroy the fishing industry.
"One more sympathetic MSP in the parliament will not make a blind bit of difference, and what we need to do is to change the government on 1 May.
"I think any distraction from replacing the anti-fishing government we have can only backfire on the cause of our fishing communities."
John Hermse, the chairman of the Scottish Fishing Services’ Association, which represents industries in the onshore sector, also condemned the formation of the new party.
He declared: "It is our view that such a party, pursuing a single agenda, would be in grave danger of being marginalised and face the possibility of having their sector ostracised by the main political parties. Now is the time for consolidation, not separation."
Rhona Grant, the secretary of the Scottish Fish Merchants’ Federation, said: "We have not had, nor will have, any role whatsoever in the formation of any new political party. We believe that to become involved in founding a political party would be, at best, a distraction and, at worst, would totally compromise our role as a trade organisation."
Roddy McColl, the secretary of the rebel Fishermen’s Association, claimed the Fishing Party was a "nave and desperate" attempt by the SWFPA to deflect criticism from its failed policies.
He said: "The Fishermen’s Party appears to have one issue on which it will be campaigning, but even that is unclear as no manifesto has been published. If it is the aim of safeguarding the Scottish fishing communities - even although that is one of many objectives of the existing political parties - then it is laudable.
"However, as neither that party nor its sponsor, the SWFPA, comprehends the core reason for the problems faced by those communities, it is difficult to visualise how it expects to gain any meaningful support."
Earlier, Mr Geddes, a Peterhead skipper, announced that the Fishing Party planned to field up to six candidates in the north-east and had set a target of returning a minimum of two list MSPs to parliament. Other Fishing Party candidates may also stand in the regional list elections elsewhere in Scotland.
He admitted that the fledgling party faced an uphill struggle. "This will not be an easy task for our modest resources, but we are committed to achieving our goal for the sake of the industry and our communities."