Press Release: Local MSP Reflects on Latest Trip to Shetland (July 26th)

Jean Urquhart MSP was delighted to have the opportunity to visit Shetland during the parliamentary recess and to meet up with old and new friends alike.

The list MSP was in Shetland for a week, and met with various local businesses and organisations to discuss their issues and hear views on the independence referendum. Jean was accompanied by SNP MEP Ian Hudghton for two days, with whom she held a joint surgery and conducted interviews with local press.

As well as meeting representatives from the agricultural, aquaculture, fisheries and gas industries to discuss the work the Scottish Government is undertaking in their respective sectors, Jean had an opportunity to discuss her past business experience with the Shetland Tourism Association and Shetland Federation of Small Businesses. Jean also met with members of Shetland Island Council and attended a meeting of the SNP branch in Shetland.

Commenting on her trip, Jean said:

“I am always pleased to visit Shetland and gain more knowledge about the islands. Shetland’s positive contribution to both the Scottish economy and to Scottish society is one that I am acutely aware of, and continually promote within the Parliament.

“It was good this time to have the chance to catch up with folk that I met as a candidate in Shetland at the last election, as well as to hear more detail on how the Scottish Government can assist Shetland and its key industries.

“The SNP is committed to every corner of Scotland, and it is vital that we continue to listen to all communities and respond accordingly.”

Jean will be returning to Shetland at the end of August and hopes to spend time visiting primary and secondary schools in her role as a member of the Education & Culture Committee- perfectly timed to enjoy the Screen and Book Festival at the end of the week before parliament reconvenes.

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Press Release: Highlands and Islands MSP Welcomes Agreement on Fisheries Sanctions (June 28th)

Jean Urquhart MSP has welcomed the announcement of a comprehensive sanctions package against countries engaged in unsustainable fishing practices.

The SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands spoke after an agreement was reached that could see Iceland and the Faroe Islands face sanctions for their unilateral setting of massive quotas for mackerel.

Commenting, Mrs Urquhart said:

“A vibrant fisheries sector is a vital part of the economy for my region, so I was pleased to see the introduction of these long-awaited measures.

“Ensuring that sustainable fishing practices are adhered to by all nations is a vital step in maintaining the future of the sector, and this package should strengthen the hand of responsible fishing nations in dealing with those who put short-term desires over long term co-operation.

“Iceland has unilaterally increased its mackerel quota to over 400 times of its 2005 size, an exponential increase that clearly is to their long-term detriment.

“I hope that this package will encourage both Iceland and the Faroe Islands to return to the negotiating table in October and agree to a sensible and sustainable fisheries deal that will benefit us all.”

Press Release: Jean Urquhart Welcomes Comments on CAP (June 26th)

Brian Pack, an expert in agriculture and former Senior Agricultural Economist with the North of Scotland College of Agriculture, has called for Scotland to have its own voice in Common Agricultural Policy dealings.

 

Mr Pack, Speaking at Farmers’ Question Time session at last weekend’s Royal Highland Show, said that Scotland would benefit if it had an independent voice at future CAP dealings.

 

“In terms of CAP Scotland needs a seat at the table; we need to argue our own case, because what is right for English agriculture isn’t what is right for Scottish agriculture.”

 

Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands SNP MSP, said:

“Mr Pack’s comments only add further weight to our argument that Scotland will only get the best deal when it represents itself at the negotiating table.

“There are obvious and natural differences between what is best for rural Scotland and what is best for rural England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“The myopic deal-making of Westminster politicians has condemned Scotland in the past to receiving far less than its fair share. As an independent nation, we would hold far more influence and be able to secure an equitable solution for our farmers and crofters.”

Speech: Common Fisheries Policy Reform (June 7th)

I suspect that I am going to put the opposite case from that put by Margaret McDougall. As a member for a region with a real dependency on the fishing industry, I am pleased to support the motion. With fish accounting for 59 per cent of all food exported from Scotland and £500 million-worth of fish landed by Scottish vessels in 2011, the value of the industry to Scotland‟s economy cannot be overstated.

The common fisheries policy has failed to work for Scotland and for Scotland’s fishing industry. The reforms, as currently proposed, will continue that unfortunate trend to the detriment of many of the communities in my region.

One of the most important principles of the European Union is that of subsidiarity: namely, that decisions should be taken at the most appropriate and most local level possible. However, that has never been the case with fisheries. The blanket approach of the European Commission to fisheries suffocates the ability of regions and nations to adapt to their own particular circumstances and needs, and endangers the very conservation that the common fisheries policy is intended to promote.

The difficulties posed by the imposition of centrally decided targets and quotas have only been exacerbated by the lack of a distinct Scottish voice at the decision table, and that has resulted in our interests being traded away by successive UK Governments. The inability of the Scottish Government, on behalf of Scotland as an independent nation, to directly influence the policy within the Council of Ministers puts us at a unique disadvantage. It is an absolute scandal that, while we remain gagged, ministers from landlocked nations such as Slovakia and Hungary are able to directly influence policies that have a negligible impact on their economies, but a potentially devastating impact on ours.

The proposal to introduce a compulsory quota trading system, nebulously called “transferable fishing concessions”, is just one of the many proposals that should give us cause for concern. The opportunity for wealthy companies to use their financial means to purchase fishing rights from hard-pressed fishermen is one that we should all be wary of, particularly as it appears that no safeguards have been put in place to prevent that practice from devastating the principle of relative stability, which has, so far, held firm.

Although there is a commitment to retain the 6 and 12-mile limits for coastal fisheries, the lack of any explicit reference in the proposals to retain, for example, the Shetland box—a protected coastal fisheries area of great importance to the Shetland Islands and Scotland as a whole—is of grave concern. I urge the Scottish Government to clarify the future of the Shetland box and, if the Shetland box is threatened, to do its best to protect those waters from being opened up, as the Irish did some years ago when their waters were under threat.

It must be remembered that, in rural areas in particular, each industry or sector helps to support many others. A set of reforms that hurts Scottish fishing also hurts our processing industries, our food and drink sector and our tourism sector—all major employers in the Highlands and Islands and nationwide.

Regardless of our constitutional views, it is in the interests of us all to push for our voice to be heard at the negotiating table, and not just with Westminster’s permission. The decision to send an unelected member of the House of Lords rather than a Scottish representative to an informal fisheries council meeting in April 2010 is just one example of party politics stepping on the toes of national interests. Surely all of us would decry that decision.

For the first time, thanks to the treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament will have a say in reforming the common fisheries policy. As a Parliament, we must work in conjunction with Scotland‟s six MEPs to ensure that a strong cross-party and national voice is heard. Surely we can all unite on that for the fishing industry in Scotland, with its obvious history and heritage.

I once more affirm my support for the motion and urge all MSPs to back the Government’s efforts to promote our interests in Westminster and Europe.