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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 3, 2023


Highly Protected Marine Areas

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-08766, in the name of Rachael Hamilton, on reconsidering highly protected marine areas. I would be grateful if members who wish to speak were to press their request-to-speak buttons now.


Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

Today’s debate on highly protected marine areas is a rare opportunity for the Parliament to agree on something. We should all agree on standing up for coastal and fishing communities.

Last month, the First Minister outlined his priorities for Scotland. He spoke for almost half an hour. He failed to mention fishing or farming once. However, it is never too late to start listening, admit your mistakes and go back to the drawing board. In opening this debate, I appeal directly to Scottish National Party members of the Scottish Parliament representing coastal communities and to other colleagues who want Scottish fishing to thrive in the future.

Anyone who rigidly follows the party line when they know the damage that these plans could do will owe their constituents, Scotland’s fishing industry and coastal and rural communities an explanation. This is not about siding with me and my colleagues on the Conservative benches; it is about siding with the Scottish fishing industry. We should be proud of that industry, which contributes over £0.5 billion to our economy each year.

On top of the challenges that those in the industry are already facing with spatial squeeze, they are contending with a fishing ban that threatens to destroy their livelihoods for good. It is clear to them, as it is to us, that the proposed fishing ban goes too far with too little evidence. We know how that came about: on a dark day, in a dishonourable agreement that was signed in August 2021.

Màiri McAllan’s amendment shows that the Government is not only failing to listen to the concerns of our fishermen and our coastal communities but that it has turned its back on science and certainty. It makes a mockery of the consultation process by taking for granted the fact that highly protected marine areas will be designated. Popeye Ewing must have fisherman’s forearms to have ripped the document apart last night—believe me, I have tried.

The SNP amendment potentially misleads the Parliament in suggesting that the plans are in line with the European Union’s, when, in fact, Scotland has already gone over and above its marine protected area targets. It cites evidence from one area and entirely ignores contradictory evidence from another. The Bute house agreement has much to answer for. It rides roughshod over the livelihoods of hard-working fishermen, with a blatant disregard for the communities that they support and the science around the matter that we are discussing.

The arbitrary figure of 10 per cent of Scottish waters being designated as highly protected marine areas has been plucked from the sky with no scientific backing or ecological justification to underpin it. The First Minister insisted that the Government would not impose those policies on communities that do not want them. Now, the line in the SNP’s amendment has changed to refer to vehement opposition. Even if it could be defined or measured, it is evident that the Government is moving the goalposts. There has been no explanation of the problem that those proposals are trying to address or the goal that they are trying to achieve. We do not even know how effective the existing marine protected area network is in supporting and maintaining biodiversity in our waters. There has been no impact assessment of how those plans would affect our coastal communities and no feasibility study into how they could be implemented and enforced.

My colleague Murdo Fraser has just discussed a recent inquiry in which we learnt that former ministers, senior civil servants and special advisers believe that Scottish Government decision making is rushed, unclear and unstructured, as we saw with the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill. We are here again. To describe the policy as rushed, unclear and unstructured would be far too generous. On the other side of the conversation, the fishing sector has taken its time to construct clear, coherent arguments against the proposals.

Nonetheless, it is important to say that I absolutely understand the need to protect our marine environment. I am certain that that is another point on which we can all agree.

The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition (Màiri McAllan)

In March, Rachael Hamilton’s colleague Thérèse Coffey, the Conservative Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, called HPMAs a vital way forward, and she subsequently introduced them in England. How does the member reconcile that with her remarks?

Rachael Hamilton

The difference with the Scottish Government’s approach is that it is not bringing the coastal communities with it. The document is a paper exercise and an online process that has had no consultation with any coastal communities at all. The difference between that and the United Kingdom Government’s approach is that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs consulted coastal communities. The fishermen even agreed on the sites that were proposed.

No one gets this more than fishermen, because without good fish stocks, their businesses would struggle. As the former finance secretary said, if we

“sever the lifeline with fishing, we will undermine the wider economy”—[Official Report, 2 May 2023; c 92.]

of coastal communities. She is right. That is a clear sign of the need to work with fishermen on those issues instead of imposing arbitrary, unevidenced restrictions on their activities. With sustainable fishing practices, our fleet has seen fish stocks rebound over the past 20 years. Plaice, hake and haddock have all seen their populations grow considerably during that time because of sustainable practices, which is down to the hard work of the fishermen who know our seas best, not the result of top-down desktop policies, as we heard during Beatrice Wishart’s members’ business debate on highly protected marine areas.

Our coastal communities have asked the Scottish Government to reconsider these plans. The fishermen in those vulnerable, fragile, rural, coastal communities need to be heard.

Today, the motion presents the Scottish Parliament with a clear choice: we can stand behind these communities, go back to the drawing board and work with them, rather than against them, to protect our seas; or we can press ahead with these unevidenced, unwanted and hugely damaging plans.

We should be under no illusion: these communities are clear that a fishing ban is an existential threat not only to their jobs but to their way of life. We have an opportunity to send them a message that we have listened and we will support them. We have a plan to do that and we want to work with this Government and all parties to ensure that we can protect them and our oceans. I believe that our motion does that, and that the amendments from Labour and the Liberal Democrats show their willingness to do that. I welcome their support and that they are standing up for fishermen, and I am sure that there are others on the back benches who will also stand up for their constituents.

I move,

That the Parliament values the £560 million that fishing contributes to Scotland’s economy and the communities that rely on that industry; recognises fish and shellfish as Scotland’s climate-smart food; further recognises that the fishing industry has worked constructively with the Scottish Government for many years on the network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) covering 37% of Scotland’s seas; notes that the Scottish Government’s plans to arbitrarily designate 10% of Scotland’s waters as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) with no scientific basis, or proper analysis of any ecological justification; further notes the significant concerns of the fishing sector as a whole and the coastal communities that rely on it, in relation to the Scottish Government’s HPMA proposals and that those proposals have failed to gain the support of coastal communities and that many local authorities also oppose them; notes the lack of any baseline, reliable methodology or modelling and a lack of suitable indicators for assessing their impact; believes that the HPMA policy is at odds with the Scottish Government’s own established cycle of reviewing the MPA network that has been carefully and rigorously developed, and calls upon the Scottish Government to fundamentally reconsider its HPMA proposals and the timeframe for their introduction.


The Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition (Màiri McAllan)

As I do not have a great deal of speaking time, I will restrict my opening remarks on behalf of the Government to what I think are the key issues.

First, it is an unavoidable truth that we are in the midst of a climate and nature emergency. This Parliament recognised that when every party proceeded to pass some of the world’s most ambitious climate targets into law.

Our oceans are a vital part of the emergency response that is needed. Scotland’s marine environment stores at least 5.6 billion tonnes of CO2, but recent research shows that the oceans are reaching their capacity to help us. That is because of a number of issues, including human impact on them. If we do not protect our seas, they will not be able to protect us for much longer. Despite the considerable progress that has been made to improve the state of our oceans, the Scottish marine assessment of 2020 shows that a number of species are in decline. The most recent assessment under the UK marine strategy showed that, across the UK, 11 out of 15 indicators of good environmental status are being missed.

Could the cabinet secretary set out exactly how banning fishing will reduce greenhouse gases?

Màiri McAllan

Finlay Carson may wish to use language such as “banning fishing”, but the point is that we are in the midst of a consultation process that asks about the principles of HPMAs, including how they are constituted and what features we might wish to protect. The consultation includes the issue of blue carbon, which directly responds to Finlay Carson’s point. However, the issue is not just about carbon; it is about ecosystems and species abundance, issues that are critically important to the equilibrium of our natural world. All of those issues are connected to the climate emergency, and I would expect Finlay Carson to understand that. That matters to me, and it matters most of all to the people who are economically, socially and culturally connected to our seas.

That brings me to my second point, which is that it is an unavoidable truth that, as we take the action that we have to take to respond to the climate emergency, we have to do it in a way that is fair, just and leaves no one and no community behind. That is the task that I and the Scottish Government are committed to, and it is one that we take very seriously indeed. That is why we have approached this really complex and emotive topic with as much democracy as possible. It is why, at this early stage in the process, the Scottish Government has held no fewer than 40 stakeholder meetings during the development of the consultation and since then, to assist stakeholders in completing—

Will the member take an intervention?

Will the member take an intervention?

Màiri McAllan

I am sorry, but I do not have any more time to take interventions from the Conservatives.

The meetings that we held included ones with regional inshore fisheries groups, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, the Communities Inshore Fisheries Alliance and the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation. As I said, we must respond to the climate emergency in a way that is fair, just and leaves no one and no community behind. That is why we met yesterday with MSPs, it is why I have committed to meet with communities across the summer and it is why I reiterate my commitment to look very closely at the thousands of consultation responses that we have received. I commit myself to that without politicking and without positioning, which I regret that some are very much engaging with.

Let us be clear: every party in this Parliament was elected on a manifesto commitment to marine protection.

Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention on that point?

Màiri McAllan

No—I am afraid that I do not have time.

The Conservatives stood on a manifesto commitment to HPMA pilots, and the Labour Party stood on a manifesto to include 20 per cent of Scotland’s waters in highly protected marine areas—double what the Scottish Government consultation proposed. Therefore, I assume that we agree that action is needed.

I realise that I am very short of time, so in the time that I have left—

Cabinet secretary, I am afraid that you are over your time, so I ask you to conclude at this point.

I am short of time, so let me just—

I regret that I cannot let you continue, because we are very tight for time this afternoon.

Màiri McAllan

That is a shame, Presiding Officer.

I move amendment S6M-08766.3, to leave out from “the Scottish Government’s plans” to end and insert:

“Scotland is in the midst of a climate and nature crisis and that decision-makers must be prepared to take action commensurate with the scale of that challenge, including enhanced marine protection, through a fair and just transition; believes that Scotland’s seas must remain a source of economic prosperity for the nation, especially in remote, coastal and island communities; recognises the considerable strength of feeling on Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs); highlights that no sites have been selected, and welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to work with island and coastal communities, including the fishing sector, throughout the site selection process to ensure that their views are listened to and understood; notes the Scottish Government’s commitment that it will not impose HMPAs on communities that are vehemently opposed to them; understands that comparable levels of high protection are found internationally, and that Scotland’s proposals are similar to the EU’s commitment; notes the clear evidence base that shows the positive impact that enhanced marine protection makes, once in place, on recovering ecosystems and supporting a sustainable fishery sector; believes that the experience of the Lamlash Bay no-take zone has shown the benefits for both the marine environment and the people who rely on it; remains committed to supporting Scotland’s fishing sector, which plays such a key role in contributing to the country’s economic prosperity, especially in remote, rural and island communities, and believes that the real threat to the Scottish fishing industry is the continuing adverse impacts of Brexit and the UK Government’s immigration policies.”


Rhoda Grant (Highlands and Islands) (Lab)

I start by expressing our disappointment at the Scottish Government’s amendment. The tone and content do not demonstrate any understanding of the consternation that is felt by our coastal communities. Let me be clear that we are all concerned about our marine environment and protecting it—none more so than those people whose parents fished the seas, who continue to fish themselves and who wish to ensure that their children will be able to fish in the future.

In support of the Government’s proposals, the example of Lamlash Bay is often quoted, but that example makes my point. The Government did not impose the Lamlash Bay no-take zone on the community—the community fought for it. Local people who know their seas fought hard for those powers, for which the Scottish Government now seeks to take credit. It took the community 13 long years to fight the system and get that protection. It is also noticeable that Broad Bay is not so often quoted as an example.

The HPMA proposals seek to ban the most sustainable form of fishery that we have: static gear boats, which are small boats that fish in local waters and cannot move to other fishing grounds.

I believe that the only species that is really left at Broad Bay is starfish.

Rhoda Grant

That is correct. Untold damage has been caused to the fishery there.

The other thing that cannot help but leave us gasping is that, under those proposals, paddle boarding and swimming can also be banned, which makes no sense at all.

We are concerned that more and more fisheries will be funnelled into smaller areas that will end up overfished. It is really concerning that these are top-down proposals. The First Minister gave a commitment that they would not be imposed on coastal communities, but the Scottish Government motion now says that they will not be imposed

“on communities that are vehemently opposed to them”.

Does the Government really want those communities to demonstrate vehement opposition? What would that look like?

That is not a just transition. I am already hearing about boats going on sale and families preparing to move away as a direct result of the policy. That is deeply damaging, given that the areas concerned are also subject to depopulation right now. The uncertainty that surrounds the proposals is damaging local economies; people cannot invest and banks will not support them, because their businesses might not have any future.

It is not just fisheries but fish farming, seaweed cultivation and harvesting that are involved. The list is long and includes the many businesses that depend on marine tourism. However, ScotWind areas are exempt. The waters that were sold on the cheap, with no community benefit, will be exempt in order to protect foreign investors. Exempting them and their profits shows the priorities of the Government—it does not care about small businesses, including the one-person or two-people businesses that are being put out of work and forced to leave. Those small businesses are not being given any exclusions.

I have never seen such a backlash. Everyone who I have spoken to in coastal communities is furious. It takes a lot to drive people to write songs, and it takes even more to make Donald Francis MacNeil sing them. The Government should not underestimate the vehement opposition to the proposals.

I move amendment S6M-08766.1, to insert at end:

“, and urges the Scottish Government to work with fishing communities and economies that have safeguarded the seas for generations to support and empower them to protect these fishing grounds for future generations, and to ensure that appropriate exclusions are put in place to benefit local communities and economies without being to the detriment of the marine environment.”


Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

It appears that, if we wait ages for a debate on HPMAs, two will come along in quick succession.

I thank again all those who took part in last night’s debate, which was led by my colleague Beatrice Wishart. I think that it sent the most unambiguous message about the strength of cross-party opposition to the Government’s proposed approach on HPMAs. Of course, that is merely a reflection of the anger—and, in some cases, fury—that is felt in island and coastal communities the length and breadth of Scotland. Therefore, it is right that we return to the subject again today, and I thank Rachael Hamilton for allowing us to do so.

Sadly, the Government’s amendment is a rather predictable and vintage example of whatabootery. Brexit continues to cause great damage, and the United Kingdom Tory Government’s policies on skilled worker visas are indefensible. However, as Elspeth Macdonald of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has made clear,

“whatever issues the industry has with Brexit and labour issues, these pale into insignificance if fishermen are banned from fishing.”

The topic of today’s debate is the same as last night, but the cast list looks a little different. Much like the HPMA designation, members operating arguments that are felt to be potentially damaging to the Bute house agreement are to be arbitrarily excluded. As such, Fergus Ewing, Kate Forbes and Alasdair Allan find themselves tied up in port by the SNP whips office. Yet, appropriately, there is no evidence that this forced tie-up regime will provide any protection for the SNP-Green Government’s policy on HPMAs, particularly when assurances that were previously offered up by the First Minister and the cabinet secretary are already being redefined and diluted.

Humza Yousaf could not have been clearer in stating that he would not

“impose these policies on communities that don’t want them.”

That promise was echoed by the cabinet secretary. Now, we are told that there needs to be “vehement” opposition, whatever that means.

The lack of any prior discussion or consultation with stakeholders in the fishing, aquaculture and other key sectors that are most directly affected is inexcusable. It has seen Government policy, developed—

Will the member take an intervention?

Liam McArthur

I do not have time, I am afraid, Mr Whittle.

It has seen Government policy, developed and consulted on over years, upended and replaced by closed-door negotiations in Bute house between the SNP and Greens. That is not evidence-based policy making; that is not ministers being inclusive or accessible. It makes a mockery of any commitment that the Government professes to genuine island proofing, which is a point that I make in my amendment.

As Rhoda Grant has said, damage is already being done through heightened uncertainty and a collapse in confidence. Reaching agreement on measures that might actually help to protect our marine environment have been made more difficult to achieve. The Government’s handbrake turn undermines those in the fishing sector who are already leading efforts to manage, protect and enhance stocks and biodiversity.

In my Orkney constituency, fishers recognise that their sector relies on healthy ecosystems and environments. They have been working in partnership with academics and environmental groups on a range of projects, including tagging brown crab; trialling technology in creels to measure environmental variables such as salinity, temperature, light and current; using cameras to understand interactions of creels with the sea bed; recording sightings of cetaceans and seabirds; and carrying out a carbon audit of Orkney’s fleet. That is precisely what we would want to see in the interests of our fishing sector, the marine environment and our island and coastal communities.

I will finish with the words of Hannah Fennell of the Orkney Fisheries Association, who told me earlier this week:

“HPMAs undermine the concept of environmental stewardship. Instead of punishing those who live near and work in the marine environment, the Government should be empowering communities and fishers. The knowledge fishers hold should be seen as an asset, and part of the solution to the twin climate crises.”

I could not agree more.

I move amendment S6M-08766.2, to insert at end:

“; recalls the passing of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, which allows for the ‘island proofing’ of legislation, meaning that the needs of island communities must be taken into consideration when creating policy or legislation, and believes that this approach must be followed in relation to Highly Protected Marine Areas.”


Edward Mountain (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

At the outset, I will say that I was taken aback by the call that I was on yesterday afternoon with many MSPs. On that call, we were asked for our opinions on HPMAs, which is a bit late, and I am not sure that it actually followed the advice that had been given. It was disturbing—and must have been disturbing for the cabinet secretary—to hear from nearly all the MSPs on the call that the level of responses, and the pure venom in some of those responses, had not been experienced by those parliamentarians before.

Presiding Officer, you will know, as I do, that many songs and folk songs that we hear are written about either heroes or villains. In this case, a folk song, “The Clearances Again”, has been written. It is not about heroes; it is about villains. That is the way that the islanders view it.

If we consider all the Highlands and Islands MSPs, there is no doubt that the Conservatives understand the issue. I know that Labour understands it, and I know that the Liberal Democrats get it. I am pretty sure that the Greens do not get it. I am also pretty sure that some SNP members get it. We listened to Fergus Ewing’s members’ business speech last night—he gets it. I will come back to that later. I think that Kate Forbes gets it, too.

However, it is clear that the other two Highlands and Islands MSPs, Maree Todd and Emma Roddick, do not get it. In fact, I do not even see them in the chamber. Perhaps that is because they have taken the Government’s shilling and they do not have to respond or take part in this debate. However, there is no doubt that they will pay for that at the next election.

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

Edward Mountain will know that the whole of Scotland’s seafood sector is united in its opposition to HPMAs. Does he agree that the proposals are about the survival not only of fishing and aquaculture but of the very communities that rely on them?

Edward Mountain

Absolutely. I take this opportunity to thank Beatrice Wishart for enabling last night’s members’ business debate, which was really interesting. One thing that we must understand—I will come on to this—is the importance of not destroying the livelihoods of those people who are employed in the local economy and who live in that area.

There is no doubt that, if we start a hare running, it is difficult to stop it. That is exactly what this Government has done with HPMAs. It has no clear idea about how it will achieve its aims, but it has a clear idea that it must get on with it, because the Greens are telling it to do so. Furthermore, it has no clear idea how it will save the jobs of the fishermen. The Greens do not care about that because, to them, those jobs are collateral damage.

The Government will push on with a policy that, to me, is not based on the knowledge of those people who live and work in that environment, who protect that environment, who cherish that environment and who have no wish to destroy it because it forms part of their livelihood.

Màiri McAllan

I agree with Edward Mountain about the importance of those communities. From the beginning, I have been clear that the measures would be developed hand in hand with them by a broad and deep consultation at the start of the process. How does he think that I could have more meaningfully engaged with communities that I have been so clear that I care deeply about?

Edward Mountain

Presiding Officer, I do not know whether I will get back my time for that.

No, that is not what the communities see. They see a centralised Government pushing down from on top without listening to a word that they are saying. If the cabinet secretary is in any doubt about that, all that I would say to her is that she should take the time to come up to my office and have a look at some of the emails that I have received. I will be very happy to share them with her.

Presiding Officer, I know that, because I took some interventions, I will have to end my speech early.


Karen Adam (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP)

I have had sincere and deep ponderings over this debate today and, in fact, over the past few weeks. I have had cause to really take time to reflect.

My concerns about HPMAs and the impact that they will have on fishers and coastal communities across Scotland are well known to the Scottish Government. First and foremost, however, I hope that they are known to the fishers across my constituency, because representing the coastal communities of Banffshire and Buchan Coast is a great honour and one that I do not take lightly. It is for that reason that I wish to make this promise to them: I promise that I will never support a policy that would be to the detriment of the lives and livelihoods of coastal communities across Scotland. I was elected to be a strong voice for our coastal communities and a steward and an advocate of not just the people but the land and the sea, and I will be just that.

Our rural communities have been through a great deal over the past few years. As a member of the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, I have listened to some devastating testimonies about the impact of Brexit on our farmers and fishers. The loss of European Union funding as a result of the reckless Tory Brexit is just one example of the significant damage that has been imposed on our rural economies. We place so much responsibility for delivering net zero on our rural industries. We must remember that our farmers and fishers are also responsible for our food security.

Does the member agree that it is not Brexit that is hellbent on banning fishing in vast swathes of our seas, but that it is the Greens and the SNP that want to do that?

Karen Adam

I disagree with the member’s take on that issue. I will come to this later in my speech, but that politics, with the whole rhetoric around “banning fishing”, seems to be driven by popularity. That is not helpful to this debate and it is not constructive.

We place a lot of burden and responsibility on our farmers and fishers, and they are responsible for our food security. If we place ever greater burdens on them, we must ensure that we also provide the relevant financial, human and legislative support. Fishers have lost trust in politicians to deliver for them, and quite frankly I do not blame them. That is the sorry result of their being used as political footballs for so long and having their priorities consistently politicised.

That brings me to the motion that is before us, which is in the name of Rachael Hamilton. Are we really supposed to believe, after everything that the Tories have done over the past few years to bring our rural industries to the brink and our economy to its knees, that they are trustworthy custodians of our farms, fisheries and natural environment? Need I say more than “Liz Truss”, “Boris Johnson” and “Brexit”? [Interruption.] Despite the Tory indignation, I note that it was announced in March that HPMAs will be introduced south of the border by the Tory UK Government. The hypocrisy is astonishing.

Rachael Hamilton is obviously opposed to HPMAs, so why did she stand on a Tory manifesto commitment in 2021 to implement pilot schemes for them? The fishers who are listening at home should be aware of that. [Interruption.]

The cabinet secretary will be reassured to hear that I do not intend to tear up any motion in a fit of theatrics today, although my colleague Rachael Hamilton stated that she would like to see that. The Scottish Parliament is not a place for amateur dramatics. It is a place where we debate and discuss as reasonable representatives the genuine needs of our constituents and our country.

You must conclude, Ms Adam.

I thank the cabinet secretary for the constructive discussions. [Interruption.]

Thank you, Ms Adam. You must conclude at that point.


Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

The Lamlash Bay no-take zone has already been mentioned in the debate. Having represented Arran, it is clear to me that strong marine protection can have support and buy-in from local communities. The Community of Arran Seabed Trust—COAST—was founded in 1995 and it led successful community campaigns to establish Scotland’s first no-take zone. The Scottish Government has much to learn from COAST’s approach and the painstaking work that was carried out on Arran to build community support for marine protection.

I pay tribute to COAST for the work that it has done because, without buy-in from the local community, marine protection areas will not work. I hope that the cabinet secretary will accept that there have been significant mistakes in the handling of the policy to develop highly protected marine areas.

Will the member give way?

I will very briefly.

Màiri McAllan

I thank Katy Clark for taking an intervention and for her contribution. I am looking at the foreword that I put in the consultation, and the closing lines are:

“That is why I want to hear what you think. I want to take on board your concerns ... I want you to help shape the creation of these highly protected areas.”

How does that not demonstrate that I care how coastal communities feel?

Katy Clark

The approach that the Scottish Government has taken has caused upset in many communities that rely on the sea and it has caused concern to many who would probably never be affected by any of the proposals. I hope that the cabinet secretary will accept that it would have been far preferable for the Scottish Government to have come forward with specific proposals to restrict particular practices in defined areas, and to have had a full and genuine consultation and evaluation process.

Will the member give way?

Katy Clark

I do not think that I will get the time back, so I apologise but I will not take the intervention.

The approach that the Scottish Government has taken has created maximum distress and anger.

The cabinet secretary rightly pointed out that we are in the middle of a climate and nature emergency, the backdrop for which is a significant decline in the marine environment and in many parts of the fishing industry and fishing stocks over many decades. A World Wildlife Fund report that was published in 2015 highlighted that, worldwide, the number of fish in the oceans had halved since 1970. The report also highlighted that populations of marine mammals and birds fell by

“49 per cent between 1970 and 2012”.

I do not think that anybody in the chamber refuses to accept the scale of the challenge that the damage to our oceans poses or the urgent need for action to help to regenerate marine ecosystems.

Many parts of Scotland, such as Ayrshire—where I come from—had significant fishing industries in the past, with coastal communities that relied on the industry for jobs and livelihoods. With the removal of the coastal limit on bottom trawling in 1984, we have seen over many years the significant damage that Government policies have done to Scotland’s sea bed habitats. There is no doubt that the use of high-impact, unsustainable fishing practices has taken a significant toll on our seas.

Those issues, however, including the use of high-impact fishing methods such as bottom trawling and dredging, remain unaddressed by the Scottish Government. More than 17,000 tonnes of fish are estimated to have been discarded by Scottish fishing boats in 2021 as a result of its policies, but the future catching policy is unlikely to address those issues. The Scottish Government has failed to come forward with a sustainable fishing policy.

I ask you to conclude at this point, Ms Clark.

We need marine protected areas and we need community buy-in in order to get them.


Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I am delighted to speak in this debate, which will be watched with interest and real concern in coastal communities across my Highlands and Islands region. I thank all the individuals and organisations who have provided input to the debate, including the many constituents who have been in contact. They represent communities right across my region, and let me be clear that they are almost without exception strongly opposed to the Scottish Government’s plans.

It is important to listen to my constituents. One of them, Kate from Dingwall, recently said of the Government’s plans that

“no other EU country has implemented HPMAs”

and that

“there is no evidence to demonstrate they actually achieve their aims”.

She argued that they would

“have a disproportionate socio-economic impact on our island and coastal communities”

and she added that she could not

“understand why anyone in Government ... thought it would be a good idea to take such a blanket approach”.

I hope that Kate from Dingwall will stand by those comments, which she made when campaigning for the SNP leadership, and that she will stand for our constituents in our coastal communities today by voting against the Scottish Government’s shameful attempt to water down the Scottish Conservative motion. Only by doing so will she send out a clear message that she opposes the SNP-Green proposals.

I hope that those of her SNP colleagues who represent coastal communities will do the same. They will know as well as I do the real anger and fear for the future that their Government’s plans have caused in those often fragile communities. Those members will know that, if they prioritise the deal with the Greens over the future of their communities, they will never be forgiven.

The plans have been rejected across the Highlands and Islands. Highland Council warned that they will stop vital economic activity in fragile remote and rural communities, and it referenced concerns that were raised with it that make comparisons between the proposals and the Highland clearances. Orkney Islands Council has said that it believes that the proposals

“could have adverse economic and social effects on Orkney’s communities”

and that it would

“strongly oppose the introduction of HPMAs—by judicial means if necessary.”

Will the member take an intervention?

Jamie Halcro Johnston

I apologise to the cabinet secretary. I just do not have time.

Orkney’s supply chain would be impacted, too. Julius Garrett of Garrett Bros said:

“the proposed HPMAs would be devastating, not just to the aquaculture and fisheries sector in Orkney, but also to the hundreds of jobs in the supply chain which depend on these businesses”.

In Shetland, the Shetland Fishermen’s Association called the Government’s plans

“one of the most pressing threats facing all sectors of Shetland’s fishing fleet, and therefore Shetland’s entire seafood economy”.

Daniel Lawson of the SFA said:

“Shetland’s fishermen have proven in the past that they are not opposed to sensible conservation measures, recognising that strong fish stocks and healthy marine ecosystems are in their own interest—and in the wider interest of sustaining our fishing community. However, proposals for HPMAs are being driven by politics and pledges, and are devoid of any environmental imperative or scientific backing.”

Ruth Henderson of Seafood Shetland said that the aquaculture sector is already highly regulated and she warned the Scottish Government against disregarding the sector’s importance to jobs and the provision of nutritious food in

“pursuit of vacuous conservation headlines.”

Tavish Scott, once of this place and now of Salmon Scotland, said that the HPMA proposals risk seeing jobs and investment going abroad. How does that fit with the cabinet secretary’s claim that

“Our seas must remain a source of economic prosperity for the nation, especially in our remote, coastal and island communities”?

The Green-SNP coalition is pushing proposals that would decimate our fishing industry, its supply chain and our coastal communities. I therefore urge all MSPs, but particularly those SNP MSPs from the Highlands and Islands, to put their constituents first today and not the Government and its deal with the Greens. I urge them to reject the Scottish Government’s amendment and back ours at decision time.

All those who care about our coastal communities and their future must come together and send a clear message to the Scottish Government that it has got this very wrong and it must scrap its plans for HPMAs.


Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

The fact that we have debated the same issue twice in this Parliament in the space of 36 hours says something significant.

As I indicated in the members’ business debate last night, I have never before had to confront anything quite like the issue of highly protected marine areas—a policy to which, to the best of my recollection, literally every single one of the many people in my island community who have offered me a view is strongly opposed. As I mentioned last night, even when I was showing a local primary school around the Parliament recently, the first thing that the kids wanted to ask me about was HPMAs. That is a measure of where things have reached—in the Western Isles, at any rate.

There is an undoubted need to address biodiversity loss in our seas, so I certainly do not make any case today for unrestricted fishing. I am also aware that the Tories, who had HPMAs in their own election manifesto, are playing political games with their motion today.

However, the problem with HPMAs is that, although they will affect only 10 per cent of our sea area, we will not know for two years which 10 per cent that will be. In the meantime, every coastal community in Scotland, particularly those on the west coast, not unreasonably fears that it will be them.

The prospect of a virtually total ban on all fishing activity in any one of our most fragile communities would, in fact, disproportionately affect some of the very forms of fishing that have the smallest environmental impacts. In areas that are fished by smaller vessels, such as many of those in my constituency, there is little realistic prospect of established fishing businesses—or, indeed, aquaculture or fish processing businesses—finding somewhere else nearby to go.

I know that the scenario that I describe is not what the Government seeks. The very encouraging tone struck by the First Minister and other ministers in recent weeks, indicating that HPMAs will not be imposed on unwilling communities, is very helpful and much welcomed locally. I also acknowledge that the Government’s amendment goes some way towards recognising the fears that exist, although I regret that it almost certainly does not go far enough for my constituents.

I realise why the Government has to wait for scrutiny of the consultation responses before it can commit to action, but I can see locally what the Government must itself increasingly now suspect, which is the sheer depth of opposition in many island communities to the proposals as they stand.

After much thought, therefore, I am going to register those concerns in a very reluctant vote against the Government’s amendment. In case anyone imagines that I do such things lightly, I say that I am someone who believes—quite unapologetically—that politics is a team sport. I am not one of those types who suffers from delusions that the lone brilliance of the tennis player is often required or helpful on the political football pitch. However, I feel that I have little choice today but to apply some real pressure on behalf of my genuinely worried island constituents.

As the policy stands, HPMAs need to be rethought, and sooner rather than later. I welcome the encouraging way in which the minister has engaged with those concerns today.


Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

All of us depend on a healthy natural world, because nature underpins life. It is not a nice-to-have; it is essential.? However, species are being lost today even faster than in any of the previous five mass extinctions. Scientists say that ecosystems will collapse if we do not stop this biodiversity loss. We must act. It is that sense of urgency that led us to ensure that protections for our oceans were included in the Bute house agreement, because what happens in our seas is just as important as our attempts on land to replant, rewild and reverse the destructive impact that humans have had on our planet.

Will the member give way?

Ariane Burgess

The Scottish Government does not stand alone in proposing HPMAs. Let me share some quotes from other supporters.

“Highly Protected Marine Areas are a vital step forward in enabling our ecosystems to thrive, increasing climate resilience and ensuring we have a healthy and productive marine environment for generations to come.”

That was the Tory environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, earlier this year. But that is England, you may say—Scotland’s marine environment is clearly different. Well, here is the Tory manifesto on which Ms Hamilton and her colleagues stood in 2021:

“Our coastal communities can thrive and grow while we better protect our marine biology—the two are not mutually exclusive”.

Their manifesto commits to a pilot of highly protected marine areas.

Will the member give way on that point? Does she ever give way?

Ariane Burgess

I do not have the time. I am sorry.

Here is Conservative MSP Peter Chapman, speaking in this very Parliament in 2020:

“There is no doubt that no-take zones would be beneficial in the long run ... I genuinely think that having more no-take zones would be good not only for the environment but for our fishermen.”—[Official Report, 15 December 2020; c 117.]

Will the member take an intervention?

Ariane Burgess

I do not believe that I will get the time back. I apologise to the member.

HPMAs are a policy on which all parties were once united across this chamber. But the Tories cannot stand to see Greens in Government standing up for our values and delivering on our commitments to voters, so they have pulled a U-turn. [Interruption.]

Thank you, members!

Ariane Burgess

They have sacrificed highly protected marine areas for their highly protected Tory vote. The hypocrisy of their motion, which not only calls for the scrapping of their own manifesto commitment but claims that there is “no scientific basis” or “ecological justification” for marine protections that they, themselves, are rolling out in England is breathtaking.

No-take zones and strict marine protections are not new policies that the Scottish Government has thought up, but standard good practice for ocean protection and recovery, with well-established zones across the world in the USA, Australia, New Zealand and the Mediterranean. The EU is currently passing a nature restoration law that would require at least 10 per cent of European waters to be strictly protected. [Interruption.] To claim that that continent-wide move somehow has no scientific backing takes Brexit-fuelled exceptionalism to an astonishing level. [Interruption.]

Members, we will not continue shouting across the chamber.

Ariane Burgess

We have just begun the process of community consultation. We must let that continue and let the genuine concerns of local communities be heard, not seek to undermine the real and credible scientific basis that underpins this policy. We need a process for communities to meaningfully input into wider spatial plans for their inshore waters. The Scottish Government is consulting with communities and trying to make this work for everyone with a stake in our seas. It is the Tory politicians who are playing politics, jumping on an oppositional bandwagon—

Thank you, Ms Burgess. I must ask you to conclude at this point.

—stirring up fear and uncertainty, and undermining our serious attempts to tackle—

Thank you, Ms Burgess. You will conclude your remarks.

—the climate and nature crises.

Ms Burgess! Thank you.


Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I highlight at the outset that, as colleagues will know, I do not represent a coastal constituency. I know that my colleagues who do are much closer to the issue and much more knowledgeable. Indeed, I caught many of the speeches in last night’s members’ business debate and found them very educational.

We can all agree that we need our fishing industry to be sustainable for the future. That is why we must take steps right now to facilitate the transition. The fishing sector in Scotland has often been the leading industry in our country’s immensely successful food and drink trade. However, that very industry is at risk due to the climate crisis that we find ourselves in.

Our marine species are in the midst of a population decline. A report published last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change bluntly stated that smallholding farmers, pastoralists and fishing communities could be some of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to climate change.

As we have heard, HPMAs seek to protect marine environments, to increase sustainability and—as is seen in California, Malaysia and New Zealand—to provide economic benefits to regions that are close to them through increased stocks and ecotourism.

On the other side of that, I am aware that the proposals have been met with significant criticism and objection, as colleagues such as Alasdair Allan, Karen Adam, Fergus Ewing and Kate Forbes mentioned yesterday and today. I am very much a believer in representational politics, and I think that it is essential that we hear the concerns of communities when we make policy decisions. If depopulation and loss of livelihoods and culture are a possibility, as has been suggested, we must do all that we can to prevent those things, not least because further migration to the urban central belt will not help us to meet our climate targets either.

From an outside perspective, if I can call it that, it seems that we have two strong cases—one that is for HPMAs and one that urges a total rethink of the policy. Of course, it is the job of Governments across the world to navigate and balance competing rights and ideas, and, from what I can tell, that is exactly where we are, despite the attempts of the Tories, through their motion, to say otherwise.

Indeed, the Scottish Government’s initial consultation on HPMAs closed only just over two weeks ago. As others have said, it is now necessary for the Government to take some time to review what I believe is a substantial number of responses, which were collected over a four-month period.

The First Minister has made it abundantly clear that the Scottish Government will not steamroller through or impose on any community a policy that it is vehemently opposed to, which is why the Government has engaged with a wide range of fishing groups and many other environmental organisations. There have been public engagement sessions and the like, and, from what I have heard from colleagues, in yesterday’s debate as well as in today’s, the cabinet secretary has been very open to meeting communities to hear their concerns and has been given much credit for that.

The policy will get much attention, and it is important that the Scottish Government pushes forward with its environmental policy objectives while not leaving anyone behind and protecting our communities. Therefore, I encourage the Scottish Government and the cabinet secretary to continue their robust engagement with stakeholders. I eagerly await the assessment of the consultation process. I would also like to hear a bit more about the thinking on swimming and water sports in relation to HPMAs, which is an issue that has not been touched on a great deal today.

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

It is clear that members across the chamber are concerned about the fact that the Scottish Government’s proposals for HPMAs are causing anxiety, stress and even much anger among all who are involved in the fishing sector. Does Fulton MacGregor agree that we need to seek concrete assurances from the cabinet secretaries that fishing communities will not be decimated as a result of the process that the Scottish Government is pursuing?

You will have to conclude, Mr MacGregor.

Fulton MacGregor

I thank Emma Harper for her intervention. I agree with her. I should have mentioned her earlier, as I know that she is a great representative and advocate in this area.

I will conclude there.

We move to the winding-up speeches.


Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

During the course of the debate, reports have appeared in the media that the First Minister has confirmed that he is happy to reconsider publishing the details of the investigation into the allegations of bullying that were made against former minister Fergus Ewing. Previously, it was asserted by the Government that that would not be in the public interest and that there would be a legal bar to it. I cannot help but have some suspicion that the First Minister’s announcement is related to the concerns that Fergus Ewing expressed in last night’s members’ business debate on HPMAs. If that were the case, it would be absolutely despicable. [Applause.]

I know that the issue of HPMAs is one that raises high emotions. I see that in my constituency, and evidence of it was cited in last night’s debate and has been referred to again today.

There have been some excellent contributions in the debate, but I will single out that of Alasdair Allan. I know that it cannot have been easy for him to give the speech that he gave in last night’s debate, and it will have been even harder for him to give the speech that he gave passionately in this afternoon’s debate. As someone who has rebelled against my party—some would argue that that is perhaps more commonplace in my party than it is in his—I know that it is not an easy thing to do. Politics is a team sport, and I do not doubt for a second that Dr Allan has come to his decision very reluctantly. The views that he expressed on behalf of his constituents are reflected in coastal and island communities around the country, and I hope that his constituents will consider the speech that he has given and the decisions that he has taken as an exemplification of the way in which we, as elected members, ought to be representing our constituents and constituencies.

The problems with the approach to HPMAs are many and various. The fact that there is a lack of evidence and a lack of clear purpose to the proposals has not helped, and the blunt and arbitrary nature of a 10 per cent designation by 2026 puts the tin hat on them for many people.

The cabinet secretary reflected earlier that there is a need for an emergency response in relation to the climate and biodiversity emergencies, but in an emergency response the Government will still, despite having to make difficult decisions, have to bring people with it. My concern is that the approach that the Government is taking has so alienated key stakeholders in the debate that the ability to reach agreement on the protections that might be needed will be immeasurably more difficult as a result.

Rhoda Grant mentioned the reference in the Government amendment to Lamlash Bay. I was interested in Katy Clark’s insights on the bottom-up approach that was taken there and the buy-in that is absolutely needed. That is what we all wish to see, whether on MPAs or stricter protections that are put in place. If such protections are imposed from above, they have no prospect of being accepted and, therefore, of delivering the objectives that we wish them to deliver.

This matter is certainly about the fishing industry, but it is also about depopulation and the viability of many communities. As I did last night, I urge the Government fundamentally to think again on the proposals and the damage that they are likely to cause to island and coastal communities.


Michael Marra (North East Scotland) (Lab)

This has been a vital debate for our Parliament and, particularly, for the communities that we serve. As many members have said, it will have been watched closely by constituents in our coastal communities.

The debate is also a taste and, indeed, a test of the very idea of a just transition during what we all recognise is a climate and nature emergency. The approach that we take to the idea of a just transition matters to all our constituents across the country. In Parliament today, all parties have been clear that the Government must do better; it must listen and it must bring people with it.

When we talk about ideas of transition, the SNP Government—rightly, I believe—continually rejects the Tory approach to economic change. The Tories abandoned our coal fields and industrial communities over generations. It must not and cannot be a case of Lerwick no more, Kirkwall no more, Stornoway no more, Ullapool no more, Arbroath no more.

Tragically, today’s debate is just the latest example in a litany of policies from the Government that have failed our coastal and, in particular, our island communities, and which have resulted in ferries that do not materialise, a breakdown in crofting regulations, delays in extending reliable broadband provision, housing policies that push families out of villages, and a tokenistic commitment to the Gaelic language—which I will come back to. The Government’s myopic focus on central belt policies has served our island and coastal communities poorly for 16 years.

Protection of Gaelic and our ancient cultural heritage cannot be achieved without protection of the communities that speak Gaelic. The language is a question of economy. The Government’s systemic failure of our island communities in the west of Scotland is leading to depopulation and the destruction of livelihoods. That was made clear in a research paper entitled “The Gaelic Crisis in the Vernacular Community”, which was published in 2020. It had this stark warning: the Gaelic speaker group does

“not have the demographic or societal resources to sustain a communal presence in the islands beyond the next 10 years”.

Although we undoubtedly face a climate crisis, the Government must also recognise the concurrent demographic crisis in the communities that are most impacted by the proposals that we are debating today.

That paper went on to highlight that on-going economic and demographic challenges in the Western Isles and other island groups exacerbate matters—

Will the member take an intervention?

Michael Marra

I will finish this point, and then I will let the minister in.

The retention of young people and young families who are willing to contribute to community vitality will be central to any credible strategy of revitalisation.

Màiri McAllan

Michael Marra rightly sets out a swathe of concerns. Does he accept, however, that where those views are held, by consulting as broadly and as early as I have done, and by committing to closely considering the responses before deciding on steps forward, I have engaged with coastal communities as early and as meaningfully as I could.

Michael Marra

I say to the cabinet secretary—not quite gently, I have to say—that meaningful consultation is genuinely about listening and changing. That is the opportunity that the cabinet secretary has today: to accept the motion and the amendments that are in front of her, to listen to some of her back benchers and—crucially—to listen to the people in the affected communities, many of whom do not see a future for themselves and for their children and grandchildren in the places that they love, and which we are elected to serve.

The Government cannot persist in wilful ignorance of the realities of life in those communities. Islanders are making sure of that, and I have to say that Parliament has, today, made sure of that, too. The people have raised their voices through the consultation that the cabinet secretary talks about, and those voices are being heard in the debate through many of the speeches. Those voices cannot be ignored, so I ask the Government—please, please—to think again.


The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands (Mairi Gougeon)

I thank members for their contributions today. I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in and close the debate in my role as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands, given my responsibilities for fisheries, aquaculture and cross-Government work on islands. I care about those responsibilities and take them seriously. I appreciate the gravity of the concerns that have been raised by members on all sides of the chamber today, and I have listened intently to each of the contributions that members have made.

Like the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition, Màiri McAllan, I represent a rural constituency and coastal communities within it and, like her, I care about what those communities are saying to us and what they are thinking, as I know that all those who have taken part in the debates today and yesterday, and those who took part in the meeting with Màiri McAllan and me, do too. All that is clear from the contributions that we have heard in the chamber this afternoon.

First, I welcome the widespread recognition, which I think we all share, of the importance of the Scottish fishing and aquaculture industries, as well as the importance of having healthy and vibrant coastal communities.

Scotland’s marine environment is a national asset that we are privileged to have. The resources that it provides maintain and create jobs, and it brings prosperity to coastal and island locations and to the wider supply chain across Scotland.

On that last point, what assessment has the Scottish Government made of the economic impact of a fishing ban on those very fishing and coastal communities?

Mairi Gougeon

I am sure that the member will be aware that we have published partial information in relation to that. With regard to the socioeconomic impacts and the island community impact assessments, we can fully complete those only when we have sites in mind so that we know what the exact impact will be and can look at it more fully. That is why the partial assessments were included in the papers.

Will the cabinet secretary give way?

Mairi Gougeon

Sorry—not at the moment. I need to make progress.

We need to recognise that our marine environment and resources are also under pressure like never before, and that bold and ambitious decision making is needed to ensure that we have that sustainable future.

Alongside other priorities that the Government is delivering, HPMAs will have a role in helping to preserve our natural capital, on which our marine industries depend, and in safeguarding our marine environment for future generations to enjoy. That is essentially what this is about. The Government’s priority is the long-term sustainability of our communities for our economic growth, supporting people to live and work in our rural areas and helping those communities to thrive. However, we are also wholly committed to protecting the marine resources that our fishing industry depends on, with consultation embedded at every stage and just transition at the heart of everything we do to give us the best chance of arriving at the right decisions for the right reasons.

That approach is the complete opposite of what has been delivered elsewhere, and we do not have to look far to find those examples. HPMAs are in the process of being introduced by the UK Government, which is implementing pilot sites in England. It is doing that in a top-down way with unclear goals and in inappropriate locations. It is important to remember that two of those sites have already been dropped because of rejection by those communities.

Unlike the Tories, this Government is not willing to base the future of marine protection in Scotland on pilots in English waters, or on the English fishing industry, when they are profoundly different from those in Scotland. Doing that would mean disregarding Scotland’s unique interests.

It is also not clear from the debate today whether the Scottish Conservatives support their own manifesto commitments on HPMAs. Indeed, all the Opposition parties campaigned and were elected on manifestos that committed to pursuing a policy in that regard to enhance protection of our marine environment.

In her contribution, Katy Clark mentioned that we should have introduced specific proposals, but that approach would have been the opposite of the one that we are trying to take, which is to consult at as early a stage as possible on how we go about the process, which is really important.

I know that we all agree about the importance of fishing and aquaculture to our economy, which is why we have supported the industry with significant amounts of funding over previous years, such as the £9.7 million for fisheries science. We have negotiated £468 million-worth of quotas through our international fisheries negotiations, because we recognise the importance of the sector.

I am sure that we also all agree that we need to take action on the climate and nature emergencies, and I am sure that we would all agree that we need to do that in a way that, as the cabinet secretary described in her opening, is fair and just, and which leaves no one and no community behind.

The Scottish Government wants to work hand in glove with everyone who has a stake in this, including communities, fishers and our marine industries, to create the best possible future for our environment, our economy and those communities.

In closing, I want to reiterate some important points. First, we will not steam-roller through or impose on any community a policy that it is vehemently opposed to.

Will the member take an intervention?

Mairi Gougeon

I am in my closing remarks.

Secondly, I emphasise that we are at the very start of the process, not the end. Thirdly, we have had a consultation and we will carefully look at all the responses that we have received. We will engage with industries and communities, and we are listening.

Let us agree to put people ahead of politics and help make the consultative and collaborative process to deliver that vision of a positive future for our environment, economy and communities as successful as it can be.


Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

The First Minister stated:

“My starting point will always be that we all want the best for Scotland and the people that we are so privileged to represent.”—[Official Report, 28 March 2023; c 16.]

Those are powerful words, and I genuinely hope that he delivers on that promise, particularly in light of the response to the ill-conceived proposals to introduce highly protected marine areas, which have sparked an enormous backlash among fishing communities the length and breadth of Scotland.

They rightly fear that if the plans to increase limitations on inshore fishing and marine activities go ahead, they will devastate many coastal communities, in what is being described as the modern-day Highland clearances.

Jamie Halcro Johnston mentioned Kate from Dingwall, and her comments are remarkably similar to those of MSP Kate Forbes, who voiced deep concern during her leadership campaign, saying:

“I cannot understand why anyone in government, particularly when we are deliberately trying to stem depopulation in rural areas, thought it would be a good idea to take such a blanket approach.”

She more recently suggested that the Government may have turned a corner. Sadly, from what I can see from the Government’s amendment, the only corner that it has turned is the corner that leads to a dead end for our fishing communities.

Could Finlay Carson enlighten me as to what “HMPA” means in the Government amendment?

Finlay Carson

It came to light that the Government amendment does not make sense. It might be helpful if the cabinet secretary explains what “HMPA” means.

It is obvious that changing direction is not unusual for the SNP, because it has had more changes of direction than the wind off the Mull of Galloway. One thing is certain: the SNP-Green alliance will not be satisfied until even guddling in rock pools is prohibited.

Karen Adam, Emma Harper and—before her pay rise—Jenni Minto have spoken about the enormous levels of concern that exist about the future of our fishing communities. Even primary school children are questioning Alasdair Allan about HPMAs.

The phrase “leave a light on” was once commonly used by the SNP-Green Government, but this time it is they who are looking to turn the lights off in our coastal communities.

Perhaps the most emphatic critic has been Fergus Ewing, who stated:

“The only mention of fishermen says that what they do is ‘destructive’”

and described the consultation document as

“a notice of execution.”—[Official Report, 2 May 2023, c 85, 86]

If these HPMAs go ahead, everyone involved in our seafood industry sector will have the spectre of redundancy hanging over them for many years to come.

Is the Scottish Government going to seriously jeopardise plans for a workable blue economy just to appease the Greens, who—make no mistake—are the extremists behind this highly contentious back-of-a-fag-packet policy commitment, who cannot even turn up in the chamber in any numbers to defend their policy? There is no robust policy analysis, no data underpinning the process, no indicators to measure the effect and, critically, no assessment of the impact on thousands of families in rural communities. Should we be surprised, given the central belt bias that we often see from the SNP-Green coalition? Only the Scottish Conservatives understand and stand up for our rural and coastal communities.

Seafood is a key part of Scotland’s transition to net zero, and we need policies that support sustainable, low-emission food production. That goes hand in hand with marine conservation. The seafood sector is highly supportive, and for generations it has practised meaningful and well-founded conservation, but the HPMA policy fails to appreciate that.

Will the member take an intervention?

Finlay Carson

Sorry, but I do not have time.

The proposals for HPMAs threaten balance, with the Government unable to provide any substance as to why it believes that they are needed.

As Elspeth Macdonald of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation pointed out, the latest response from the Government is both misleading and hugely concerning. It takes as fact that HPMAs will happen—making a complete mockery of the consultation process. The Scottish Government is clearly interested only in discussing where HPMAs will be imposed, and not whether the case for them has been made.

Karen Adam has already sought and been given assurances from both the First Minister and the cabinet secretary that HPMAs would not be imposed on communities, but that language has now changed to refer to

“communities that are vehemently opposed.”

Does that mean protests outside Parliament or gunboats quelling troublesome fishing boats? If “vehemently” could be defined or measured, it would be evident whether the Government has moved the goalposts.

Perhaps Màiri McAllan can tell us what she plans to do if the consultation reinforces universal opposition to HPMAs from coastal communities the length and breadth of Scotland. What will happen to the Bute house agreement commitment to the Greens to designate 10 per cent of Scottish seas as HPMAs?

Furthermore, the Scottish Government made a misleading statement by claiming that the plans are in line with those of Europe: wrong—they are going to exceed them. The EU target is to protect 30 per cent of waters. That is similar to our existing MPAs, which allow some fishing and aim to strike the right balance between conservation and sustainable harvesting. Scotland already has almost 40 per cent of its waters under some protection, so now we are adding another 10 per cent that will be under a total fishing ban. I am quite sure that even the SNP treasurer can do that simple sum.

The cabinet secretary said that she cares and empathises, that she is a rural MSP and is deeply connected and listening, but she was not so deeply connected or willing to listen to stakeholders on the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland) Bill, when she effectively banned the legal activity of rough shooting after watching a YouTube video. She also does not understand that muirburn does not burn peat, so how can we place any trust in her or her colleagues’ judgment to get this right?

This shows all the signs of being another example of bad policy making. Acronyms seem to be a common thread of SNP-Green policy; from DRS to GRR and R100 to UNCRC. Now it is HPMAs. It should be TTFN—ta ta, for now—to this policy. It should be tagged “DNR”—do not resuscitate this dead-duck policy.

Our manifesto supports a pilot, but we did not support a blanket introduction of HPMAs.

We have already heard about the anti-HPMA protest song “The Clearances Again” by Skipinnish, which highlights the fears surrounding the serious economic and social devastation that the policy will bring:

“My song marks a fight for survival
A Mayday call we cry.
We will stand for the rights of our children.
We will not let our islands die.”

Alasdair Allan, Karen Adam, Emma Harper, Jenni Minto, Maree Todd and Emma Roddick, do not allow yourselves to be bullied by the whips. Stand strong for your communities. Where will you place their allegiance at decision time—with the extreme policies of the Greens or with the communities that you represent?

Please conclude, Mr Carson.

If you let your communities down, they will be watching.

That concludes the debate on reconsidering highly protected marine areas.