A flurry of activity in Strasbourg and Brussels preceded the European Parliament's summer recess, providing members with a mountain of summer reading material. When meetings resume, during the first week of September, the Fisheries Committee will embark on detailed consideration of over 2,600 amendments, submitted by MEPs, to the Commission's proposal on Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. The sheer number of amendments underlines the divergent range of views and interests involved, and the fact that it will be impossible for one over-centralised policy to satisfy all of Europe's fishing nations.
Meantime, the summer weeks provide a welcome opportunity to catch up with local matters in the geographically vast constituency of Scotland. It is always beneficial for politicians to hear directly from the people involved in enterprises and activities which may be affected by EU decision-making.
Along with Jean Urquhart MSP I visited Shetland for consultation meetings, including with representatives of the fisheries and aquaculture industries, and to hear of the research and training activities carried on at the NAFC Marine Centre. The seafood industry is by far the biggest single contributor to the Shetland Isles economy. At £300m annually, the value of seafood to Shetland is three times greater than that of oil and gas.
The SNP's European Parliamentary Group, the European Free Alliance, came to North-East Scotland on a fact-finding visit. One highlight was a briefing at the Scottish European Green Energy Centre (SEGEC) at Aberdeen University, which brought home the major emphasis placed on developing renewable and sustainable energy by the Scottish Government.
Our fellow-MEPs were impressed by Scotland's pioneering work to develop tidal, wind, hydro and other forms of green energy. SEGEC works to take this work forward and help viable green energy projects find European funding. We already produce 35% of our domestic electricity consumption from green energy sources, and the SNP Government has set a target of 100% by 2020.
One of Scotland's best known, and most economically valuable, industries is Scotch Whisky distilling. In a visit to the Glen Garioch distillery, at Old Meldrum in Aberdeenshire, the Scotch Whisky Association provided an update on the growth in distilling and the industry's economic importance.
Exports of whisky are estimated to be worth around £4billion to the Scottish economy and currently result in very substantial revenue to UK Treasury.
The summer months (weather permitting!) I enjoy attending as many as possible of the local Agricultural Shows which abound. This year's itinerary includes the shows at Echt, Turriff and the Black Isle. These events are tremendous showcases for our food production industries, and the wide range of ancillary businesses which depend upon a successful agriculture sector. In addition, the shows provide major entertainment attractions for locals and tourists to enjoy - and give a significant boost to the economy in the process.
One common thread at these events this summer has been the presence of a 'Yes Scotland' referendum campaign stall, with local volunteers gathering signatures of supporters. It is very noticeable that, since the election of the majority SNP government and especially since the launch of the Yes campaign, people are keen to talk about Independence and listen to our views. I am finding more and more people agreeing that the right to have Scotland's vital interests fully represented in the EU, and other international bodies, provides one of the most compelling reasons to vote Yes.