Friday 26 October 2018

The Silver Darlings - the fishing Rich List pulling the strings on Scottish Tories

From my Daily Record column today:

Feeling the urge to join in the collective nervous breakdown of the Conservatives, Scottish Tories are going tonto about fishing.

The party’s Scottish MPs - a subsidiary of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation - wail how they will vote down Theresa May’s “transition” Brexit deal if it means fishermen have to stay in the Common Fisheries Policy a day beyond December 2020.

The date is important because the Tories would be slaughtered going into the 2021 Holyrood election without delivering on the Brexit pledge that won them Westminster seats in north-east Scotland.

Being a tartan version of the DUP might play in the north-east constituencies, but who are Scottish Tories actually willing to die in a ditch for in order to have the UK crash out in a no-deal Brexit?

The answer is not the port communities they represent but the super-rich fishing barons, who own the rights to all the fish in the sea.

Some great investigative work by Greenpeace confirms what some of us have long believed - a tight millionaires’ club run Scottish fishing.

The records show 45 per cent of all Scottish fishing quotas are controlled by just five wealthy families, all of whom feature on the Sunday Times “Rich List” of Britain’s millionaires.

This Silver Darlings circle includes Alexander Buchan and family, ranked 804 in the 2018 Rich List, with an estimated net worth of £147million. Their Lunar Fishing Company are not just Peterhead’s biggest quota holders, they are the UK’s biggest quota holders, controlling 8.9 per cent of all catches.

Coming in at 980th on the Rich List are Robert Tait and family, whose Klondyke Fishing Company are the UK’s third-largest quota holders, with 6.1 per cent of the UK total.

Incidentally, in England, nearly 80 per cent of fishing quota is held by foreign owners or Rich List families.

The records also show 13 of the top 25 quota holders were convicted for offences in Scotland’s £63million “black fish” scam in the 1990s.

This sophisticated fraud, involving false holds and secret landings, demonstrated it was Scots themselves who fished out our coastal waters.

After years of denial, the industry acknowledged their guilt and are making amends with conservation measures, simply because fishing faced extinction if they carried on as they did.

As stocks depleted and skippers left, the quota ownership became concentrated in fewer hands. But fish stocks are a national asset and not the preserve of a rich elite who would now manipulate the fate of the nation to maintain their wealth.

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government fisheries Cabinet Secretary, wants full powers over setting fishing quotas in the Brexit Fisheries Bill. To do what with exactly, Fergus?

The Scottish Government already manage quotas yet the concentration of fishing quota ownership dwarves land ownership statistics.

Fewer than 500 people possess half of all privately owned land in Scotland and there is constant demand for reform.

When it comes to fish stocks, a privatised national asset belonging to us all, there should be talk of revolution.

Any politician with a claim to be radical (that’s you, Michael Gove, and you, Nicola Sturgeon) would seize departure from the Common Fisheries Policy as a year zero on fishing quotas.

There ought to be a redistribution of quotas to encourage new entrants and break up the Silver Darlings circle.

Licence to fish must be tied to specific ports to revive towns, and inshore fishing protected from the big netters.

The barons and their political puppets say it wouldn’t work. Well, they would, the rigged system works well for them as it is.

Pelagic fishing for mackerel and herring is a lot of the Scottish quota and it is argued only the super-trawlers are geared up to fish for those in dangerous waters.

Yet with redistribution, with restructuring, fishing could be the one transformative positive of Brexit.

But don’t bet on any politician showing the Silver Darlings what “taking back control” actually means.

Friday 5 October 2018

A tale of two visions of Scotland's future

From my Daily Record column

THIS is a tale of two commissions, two rival visions of the future which collide over the SNP conference in Glasgow, though neither are on the agenda.

The first, the SNP’s Sustainable Growth Commission report will be the embarrassing uncle, talked about but kept away from fireplace conversations.

Andrew Wilson’s independence blueprint has not aged well over the six months since it hatched.

The vision of a low tax Scotland where austerity would last at least another 10 years look very unfashionable now.

In contrast, the IPPR Commission on Social Justice, a landmark report with radical solutions for the broken economics that have left so many people behind, set the weather for the political conference season.

The IPPR recommendations translated straight into platform speeches for McDonnell and Corbyn, capturing the mood of voters to the extent that Theresa May was forced to claim she will abandon austerity.

With calls for a decent living wage and workers on company boards, the “prosperity and justice” report really did spark a national conversation.

It spat out ideas like a £10,000 “universal minimum inheritance” for all young people. It proposed to double the number of workers covered by collective bargaining, to auto-enrol gig economy workers into trade unions, to give the self-employed work-related benefits.

The Wilson Commission didn’t even consult the Scottish Trade Union Congress.

Instead, it recommended workers prepare for independence with something called “flexicurity”, a term so loaded with low expectancy, low wages and globalised exploitation that it will be the shameful headstone for the Wilson report when it is buried.

The IPPR Commission recommended reversing cuts to corporation tax, which have failed to increase investment as promised.

The Wilson commission argued indy-Scotland should match the UK’s low corporation tax step for step in a race to the bottom.

Given the preferred Tory model for Brexit Britain is to slash tax and diminish work protections, this is deeply worrying.

Tackling poverty and inter-generational opportunity are at the heart of the IPPR report.

In the Wilson Commission these issues, central to what politics is for, get little more than wishful thinking.

The IFS, the highly regarded economics research institute, concluded Wilson’s plans would leave Scotland facing an extra 10 years of austerity.

Yet, the SNP national assemblies convened to debate the Wilson vision reportedly spent their time obsessing over what currency Scotland should use.

Instead of wishing for money they don’t have, SNP members would do better for social justice by asking their leader questions about the money she does have.

Anyone going to the Glasgow conference will know the city has the highest levels of deprivation and lowest life expectancy in Scotland.

The council, now SNP run, have to tackle this with £233 per head less to spend on services than five years ago.

In the rural Western Isles, where public services are harder to provide, council funding has reduced by £504 per head of population over the same time.

These are not Tory cuts, this is austerity minted in St Andrew’s House.

The Scottish Parliament’s own research unit show that since 2013 council budgets have been cut by £744million, or 7.1 per cent compared to the Scottish Government’s own UK grant, which decreased by 1.3 per cent over the same time period.

Theresa May could end austerity with the stroke of a pen. So could Nicola Sturgeon but she backs the Wilson blueprint for independence and she’d double down on austerity.

Anyone who believes in tackling economic injustice, that's anyone on the left really, ought to look at Sturgeon’s council cuts and should compare the Wilson and IPPR reports.

Only one has the answers for a fairer future.