Until such time as a "Brexit" date is agreed - possibly more than two years from now - the UK will still be a member of the EU and the normal work of the European Parliament continues. Legislative work on a range of important issues in which Scotland has vital interest will proceed, and the outcomes will affect us in future either as neighbours or as continuing members. For example, in the Fisheries Committee we will be commencing detailed work soon on a Management Plan for the North Sea and on a wide-ranging legislative proposal on Technical Measures. I will continue to contribute and vote on these, and the many other pieces of legislation coming before us, endeavouring to ensure that Scotland's key interests are fully recognised.
Fisheries Management has not been one of the success stories arising from our EU membership, but it is important to recognise the fact that it was a UK Tory government betrayal which led us into the deeply flawed and grossly over centralised Common Fisheries Policy. Ted Heath's government described our fisheries as "expendable" in EU negotiations, as they signed us up to decades of CFP failure. Successive UK governments have taken part each December in the Council of Fisheries Ministers, frequently failing our fishing communities in the all-important decisions on conservation and quota-setting.
Scotland's position as a major fishing nation has always been recognised by the SNP, with Winnie Ewing and my late, lamented, predecessor Allan Macartney speaking up strongly in the European Parliament. One of the earliest speeches I made as an MEP, in February 1999, was on a report which had been drafted initially by Allan shortly before his death. He drafted the report to contribute to the then current Europe-wide assessment of the achievements and failures of the CFP.
The draft looked at how more local involvement in resource management and conservation measures might best be achieved and called for regionalisation to be consolidated and expanded through the creation of regional management units. Like Allan Macartney, I firmly believed at that time that bringing the decision-making process closer to those who are most affected by the CFP and are responsible for its implementation would lead to more respect for the provisions of the CFP and for a more successful policy, ensuring that fishers would have incentive to conserve stocks successfully for their own long-term benefit.
In those days, MEPs only had consultative input on Fisheries issues, and the Council of Fisheries Ministers, with UK government participation, chose not to decentralise decision-making. It was not until the commencement of the most recent CFP review, in 2012, that some modest progress was made in the direction of decentralised management, with some Member States still less than enthusiastic. The newly revised CFP is still in the early days of implementation, and there has simply not been enough time to build upon the foundations of devolved management.
Now, it seems that many people in the fishing industry hope that leaving the EU will bring all their problems to an end. I do not share the optimistic view that returning powers to a UK government will suddenly lead to an increase in political priority being accorded to our fishing industry. The abysmal record of successive UK governments speaks for itself. It is time we had a normal, independent, Scottish government representing our fishing communities properly, with the power to prioritise our interests in the necessary international agreements.