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Fishing for favours

Brian Taylor | 15:43 UK time, Tuesday, 5 June 2007

So who do you think will blink first? Richard Lochhead or Ben Bradshaw?

What do you mean you didn’t know there was a contest? There’s a big one - that goes right to the core of devolved government.

Let me backtrack a little.

Today Linda Fabiani is in London attending a Joint Ministerial Committee on Europe.

Big deal? Very big.

Like most ministers in the SNP executive, Ms Fabiani commands a bewildering array of remits.

Quite apart from the unalloyed joy of serving in Alex Salmond’s office of the first minister, she has responsibility for Europe.

Hence the London talks.

The formal JMC mechanism fell into disuse somewhat under the previous executive.

Scottish Ministers and officials found they could sort out most things by a private call to their counterparts.

From the other viewpoint, unless prompted, Whitehall officials often didn’t see the need to involve Scotland at all. You know the feeling: they never write, they never phone.....

But things are rather different now. There is an SNP executive in Edinburgh.

There is a DUP/Sinn Fein administration in Northern Ireland.

These guys are not going to accept for a nanosecond that the “man in Whitehall” automatically knows best. They are going to want proof.

Which brings us to Lochhead/Bradshaw.

Lochhead is Scotland’s cabinet secretary for rural affairs - including fisheries, to which the SNP attaches great importance. Bradshaw is the minister in Whitehall with responsibility for fisheries.

There is a European Council of Ministers meeting scheduled for next week to discuss fisheries.

During the election, the SNP said their government would seek to lead for the UK in EU fisheries talks - because the fishing grounds are mostly in Scottish waters and the industry is of disproportionate value to Scotland.

They derided the impact of previous executive ministers.

In response, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Whitehall has gently pointed out the constitutional position: which is that the UK Government leads for the UK in European negotiations.

So who will blink first? Is Richard Lochhead really going to insist on leading not just for Scotland, but for the UK, when he has never been a minister before and, consequently, has never attended an EU Council of Ministers as a participant?

Scotland’s previous representative at these talks, Ross Finnie, held the post for eight years.

And what of the UK Government stance? Will they stand on constitutional rules - and tell Lochhead where to get off? Or will they give ground?

My guess is they give ground - but not too much.

The history of the British state has been one of accommodating to circumstances, slowly and carefully, to avoid wider conflict.

My guess is Bradshaw blinks, stressing the importance of absorbing and reflecting Lochhead’s contribution, while never at any point conceding the absolute right of the UK Government to deal with Brussels.

Is that enough for the SNP?

It may have to be. The UK Government has the law on its side.


  • 1.
  • At 04:47 PM on 06 Jun 2007,
  • Poppaea wrote:

Does Lochhead have the experience/nous to operate at such a rarified level??

  • 2.
  • At 05:59 PM on 06 Jun 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

It would appear from your blog that the existence of an SNP First Minister and Government have caused Whitehall Mandarins now realise they can no longer assume that the First Minister will toe the line with Labour’s Doctrine.

If this was the case how many times was legislation passed with no involvement of Scotland’s previous First Minister, Jack McConnell?
How many times were these faceless Westminster wonders challenged?
Where was the accountability we should have expected?
Did the First minister just sign the completed documents when they were presented?
Was the First Minister merely a rubber stamp for the Scottish office/ Westminster?

Richard Lochhead I see as a welcome replacement to Ross Finnie, I always perceived the previous incumbent as a toady, not to anyone in particular but to anyone who would grant him office complete with all the trappings.
He always was the harbinger of bad tidings, because it was he who had to tell Scotland’s fishermen their interests had been negotiated away; the price both hea and we had to pay for his term in office.

  • 3.
  • At 07:32 PM on 06 Jun 2007,
  • Hibee1902 wrote:


Glad you've highlighted this issue - it will, undoubtedly, be one of the issues where the SNP will seek to create a clash with the UK Government. This is essentially because of their electoral support in NE Scotland - where they receive strong backing from fishermen. No doubt, they have promised something in order to win this support!

Irrespective of one's constitutional views (a case for more independence can be made), this is a tragedy for Scotland, especially for the sustainable use of Scotland's natural resources. Over the years, our fishermen (especially the vocal, well organised, politically connected ones) have demonstrated a complete immunity to scientific argument and have sought quotas well in excess of any sustainable catch. No doubt, the SNP will seek to deliver these demands. This will lead, in the long-term, to the collapse of stocks (and the fishing industry!) as well as damage to the environment, and tourism. However, today's fishermen will get even richer - even if their sons have nothing to catch!

Any observer of Mr Lochhead's activities in this field should scrutinise them carefully against scientific advice from FRS and ICES and, where/when he deviates, seek real scientific arguments to justify such actions.

  • 4.
  • At 12:32 PM on 07 Jun 2007,
  • Matthew wrote:

Poppea wrote: "Does Lochhead have the experience/nous to operate at such a rarified level??"

Does Ben Bradshaw?

And this isn't the SNP "seeking to clash" with anyone. This is about the Scottish government representing the people of Scotland, the interests of the fishing industry and the wider community. Isn't that what the last lot should have been doing? Maybe if they had they might not now be sitting in their new seats wondering what happened.

  • 5.
  • At 02:21 PM on 07 Jun 2007,
  • DisgustedDorothy wrote:

I want to see an executive which bats for Scotland.We have watched as the fishing fleet has been reduced by a third,watched as small fishing communities have 'died'
Lets have a good look at scientific evidence by all means,at the same time look at protecting our fishing rights.

  • 6.
  • At 04:16 PM on 07 Jun 2007,
  • Åge Kruger wrote:

An interesting note from the history books: Norway became independent from Sweden in 1905 over a row concerning the representation of Norway internationally by the Swedish foreign minister.
Scotland's desire to be represented at the European table with the other grown-ups is not exactly dis-similar...

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