Willie Rennie: We must listen to Scotland’s Brexit-voting fishermen

Willie Rennie says that the Scottish Liberal Democrats will 'Demand Better'. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Willie Rennie says that the Scottish Liberal Democrats will 'Demand Better'. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
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Amid Brexit uncertainties, Scotland’s fishermen deserve better, writes Willie Rennie.

A few weeks ago I ventured out to the North Sea from Pittenweem on the prawn boat, the Sanela.

Unfortunately, I left my sea legs at home. I was told a couple of ginger biscuits would sort me out. I’m not a doctor, I didn’t know that was nonsense. As the waves went up and down – so did my stomach – for 16 hours.

These fishermen are grafters. In force nine or flat calm, the skipper and his two crew just want to make a living. They don’t ask much or expect government to do their job for them. They just want rules and laws that make sense and when government fails to listen that is when they kick back.

So when they say the big energy companies might destroy their fishing grounds because the firms can’t get together to reduce the impact of the massive cables from offshore wind farms, they want government to listen. When they say the harbour needs dredged because it’s adding four hours to their working day, they want government to listen. Imagine if potholes in the road were adding four hours to the commute into Edinburgh or Glasgow. There would be an out roar. And when they say they want a smooth path to market for their goods, they want government to listen.

The Sanela catch is the best quality. The langoustine and prawns go straight from the shores of Fife to the plates of diners across the continent. It’s a high value export but fresh seafood has no value if it’s stuck in a lorry park in Kent.

Picture the chaos of lorries arguing to get a place on a choked up motorways heading for the channel because a distant, foolish UK government has let it go this far.

So if we want to turn the tide against the easy populist slogans from the extremes on the left and right, we need to listen. The Sanela crew backed Brexit. They kicked back against a government that didn’t listen and didn’t hear their concerns. I disagreed with them on Brexit but I want to listen to them because whatever happens on Brexit we won’t go back to the way the country was.

I’m increasingly confident that with the Leave campaigns promises evaporating and the economic cost becoming clear we will get a People’s Vote and the tide will turn on Europe. But this will all be for nought if we do nothing for the communities that feel they have been left behind. I am taking up the issues facing the Sanela crew and I will work to get them sorted. People who play their part in their community should have the opportunity to get a decent job, afford their own home and rely on good public services, with a government on their side. That’s not the reality for millions of people in our country today.

For the past few days I have been on a very different shore, at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, were there have been truly radical proposals on show: using the money the Government are going to squander to invest in communities from Banff and Buchan to Bridgend, building 300,000 homes a year over the next decade and delivering the UK’s first sovereign wealth fund. The Liberal Democrats are demanding better. Standing up to big corporations and the Brexit elite who steal away all they can and then rig the game so their kids can keep it while other people’s kids go hungry.

We are the only party taking on the power and privilege of the Brexit elite with their country mansions, gold bullion investments, inflated expense accounts and offshore wealth. This is the fundamentally unfair system that so many of the ordinary people who voted for Brexit raged against. But Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees Mogg are exploiting that anger for their own ends. People who voted for Brexit need to know that it is these abuses of the system that we are committed to stamping out.

That’s why it is so important that we demand better. We must listen. We must act. The fishermen deserve better. People deserve better and Liberal Democrats demand better.

• Willie Rennie is the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats