Sunday 25 March 2018

Fishing barons the Brexit winners

From my Daily Record column

The fishing fiasco has exposed the utter shallowness of Conservative thinking on Brexit, and much else besides.

Michael Gove and Ruth Davidson were fools to cast aside a political rule to under-promise and over-deliver in a rush to say the UK will quickly gain control of territorial fishing waters.

Desperate for a Brexit win, they set the UK up for a fall.

Russia is not the only country which delights in sowing dicord.

French negotiators read British newspapers, saw what the pair wanted and simply said: “Non”.

The EU will set quota until 2020 and France proposed not just that the UK have no say but that our share be reduced too.

British negotiators were lucky to escape with the current quota intact, and that was bad enough.

Politicians then danced a sailor’s hornpipe to outdo each other on outrage.

To calm Scottish Tory MPs, whose lease on the north east has fishing and Brexit stamped on every page, chief whip Julian Smith told them not to worry because “it’s not like the fishermen are going to vote Labour”.

Unbelievably, Smith is Scottish but hasn’t caught up on the last 30 years of SNP dominance in fishing communities cut short by Brexit.

They just don’t get it but neither do nationalists clamouring that the UK will sell out fishing for a better deal for London’s financial services.

The choice is not between banking and fishing quotas, it will be about how much quota the UK will share versus the EU trade tariffs fish exports could face.

The hard-Brexit Rees-Mogg and his Scottish valet, Ross “Jeeves” Thomson MP, propose what might amount to a quick quota grab for the white fish fleet.

But for the majority of Scottish fishermen, the in-shore boats that export shellfish landings into the EU, it would be a disaster.

Before their limited free trade deal with the EU, Canadian fishermen faced an eight per cent import tariff on lobster - double if the produce was frozen.

That’s the price the Scottish shellfish industry would pay under a sovereign seas policy Farage and Co demand.

Fishing, like shipyards, is a deeply symbolic industry, but just who are politicians fighting this Brexit war for?

To their credit (and the EU’s), Scotland’s white fish fleet went through years of conservation pain and decommissioned boats.

Perversely, as stocks recovered, quota was gathered into fewer hands and fishing power was concentrated in supertrawlers capable of hoovering up tons of stock in one catch.

Effective control of the Scottish fishing industry now rests with a few dozen multi-millionaire owners across the north-east and northern isles.

These fishing barons are licking their lips at the prospect of leaving the EU and dictating policy to MPs marching up Downing Street to their tune.

What chance for conservation or a re-balancing of the fishing industry if it’s the megabucks interests masquerading as a heritage industry who call the shots?

There is a genuine opportunity in Brexit, though Theresa May probably didn’t register it when she said: “We want to rebuild our fishing industry.”

Voiceless, run-down fishing communities want that too but there isn’t a post-Brexit plan which speaks to them any more than there is for negotiating Brexit in the first place.

Right now all Brexit means for fishing is allowing millionaire Scottish quota owners and huge English quota conglomerates (foreign-owned some of them) the opportunity to plunder more from the seas.

If it is about the catch to profit ratio of millionaires, Brexit will be a real betrayal of coastal communities.

Friday 16 March 2018

Salisbury and Salmond

From my Daily Record column today
We awake, blinking into a the new world of war where guns and missiles have been replaced by fake news on Facebook, poisoned spies and useful idiots.

The attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal and his daughter using a Russian military grade nerve agent was a very loud wake-up call. You would have to be politically deaf, deluded or Jeremy Corbyn to ignore it.

Like it or not we are, and have been for some time, engaged in a humming, constant conflict with Vladimir Putin’s criminal regime.

Over the last few years we have seen the symptoms, in the Crimea, in the interference of in US elections and now on the streets of Salibury.

What happened last week was not a targeted assassination of a traitor, it was a massive political assault against the west.

For those still scrambling around for an alternative explanation it is maybe best to spell it out - we are meant to know it was Russia behind the attack, we are meant to feel powerless to respond.

My essential catch-up viewing this week has not been the Alexei Salmond show, more on that later, but a timely BBC documentary on the Russia’s new Tsar, Vladimir Putin.

Feeling isolated and paranoid about the West, Putin embarked on a campaign of chaos to undermine his enemies.

This first use of chemical warfare in Europe was designed to destabilise the UK (it has succeeded) and to further isolate the country just as it breaks its bonds with the EU.

Fail to respond and Theresa May would have looked weak, but ramp up the rhetoric and the world discovers the limits of Britain’s international reach.

The collective European response will be meagre and Britain is left with a Frank Spenser lookalike of a Defence Secretary telling Russia “go away” and “shut up”.

Moscow snorts and continues to deny all facts, because these can be countered with alternative facts in the “post-truth” world.

Which takes us neatly to Alex Salmond.

It was never in doubt that the former First Minister would go ahead with his defiant broadcast on RT this week, though even his friends must have watched thinking this was quite a long way for one of the best politicians of his generation to fall. 

Salmond’s claim to be free from political interference gives RT the same veneer of impartiality as ballot boxes give to this Sunday’s Russian elections. 

The former SNP leader is not gullible nor naive. He knows RT is one part of the Putin’s full spectrum arsenal to undermine western democracies.

But he and Moscow share a common objective, to diminish confidence in established UK broadcasters and to weaken the unity of the United Kingdom. 

Salmond properly recognises the BBC as a keystone of shared British identity. By jacking himself up on RT pedestal he can pretend, well he can try to pretend, the Russian propaganda arm is on a parr with the BBC or ITV. 

There is enough of a receptive audience out there to make the cringing performance worthwhile.

The current First Minister is cleared to be a centre-ground stateswoman, turning the gas down on constitutional rows, leaving Corbyn in the shade with words of solidarity on the steps of Downing Street.

Salmond talks to those willing to lulled by an alternative story, highlighting the Labour leader’s isolation by lending him a crutch.  

That looks like a smart win-win for someone. With Salmond and Corbyn it is Putin who wins twice.