Tavish Scott: Spain sure to go fishing after a yes

Tavish Scott. Picture: Neil Hanna
Tavish Scott. Picture: Neil Hanna
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FOR any who turn their back on the traditional turkey next week fish is an alternative. It is best when fresh, lightly cooked and not smothered in a stultifying sauce.

How much fish can be caught in Scottish waters was decided this week. Before Christmas every year Europe’s fisheries ministers gather in Brussels and haggle over the details of the following year’s catch.

The Nationalists always claim that all would be better if Scotland were independent. But the Brussels deal that eventually emerges has less to do with the Council of Ministers meeting in the main board room. The content of next year’s fish supper is sorted out in bilateral discussions between individual countries and the European Commission.

Even that process is secondary to the importance of Norway. Oslo makes Machiavelli look like a rank amateur when it comes to negotiating the national interest. Norway remains outside the EU. That holds no fears for Norwegian fishermen. They see little benefit to being tied down by Brussels’ red tape and micro management of their industry.

Fish do not obey arbitrary lines in the sea. So international agreements must be reached over the health of stocks based on scientific assessments which determine the quantity of each species that can be caught without overfishing the species. If the Scottish Government are to be believed, then were Scotland to be a separate country within the EU, not only would there be more fish in the sea but our fleet’s right to land more would be guaranteed. That is seen as a trifle simple by the great majority of the Scottish industry.

Spain have now entered this heady mix of constitutional politics and fish. The Spanish prime minister recently declared that if Scotland votes to leave the UK in 2014 there is no guarantee of subsequent membership of the EU. This view was endorsed by the president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy. He said that if part of an existing member state – Scotland – became independent, it would have to enter the full accession process to join the EU. Croatia is the most recent example.

Few seriously suggest an independent Scotland would fail to be welcomed into the EU. The question is the terms of membership. Take fishing. Spain has always resented being squeezed out of the North Sea fishing grounds by the deal that was done when they joined the EU in 1986. The UK argued that Spanish membership was conditional on their large fishing fleet not being able to fish right up to the British beach.

Consider then the circumstances of a Scottish request for EU membership. Madrid is worried about Catalonia who now plan their own referendum on independence. The Spanish government want to demonstrate the benefits to staying in an existing, larger member state. The price for Scottish accession is that their fishing fleet gains access to the Scottish part of the North Sea. What a dilemma for Mr Salmond. Membership of the EU or selling out Buchan fishermen?