Party pledges

Back in the early days of the Scottish Parliament, manifesto launches were a big deal. They signalled the kick-off of the campaign. They set the tone and they were important; indeed, parties that got them wrong could see their whole strategy thrown off course.

Political hacks like me used to scour each one for stories and clues about subtle shifts in approach or policy.
Now, manifestos tend to emerge in dribs and drabs; some so late in the campaign, a number of people will have already voted by post by the time they appear.
Partly this is a reflection of the way politics has changed, but it is also a rational response to the fact that there is not much of a contest in Scottish politics at the moment.
After all, why should anyone give much credence to either the Conservative or Labour manifestos in the run up to the election, when neither party appeared to have a realistic chance of forming the next
So, while Scotland’s salmon farmers should probably have been insulted that neither the Tory nor Labour manifestos bothered to mention their world-famous, export-leading sector at all, in purely political terms that omission didn’t really matter.
There were really only two important manifestos on show during the Scottish election and one was much, much more important than any other – that was the Scottish National Party manifesto.
The SNP went into the election as the party of government, and it is apparent now that the votes have been counted that it has emerged as the biggest party once again.
Not only is the manifesto set to form the basis of the SNP’s programme for government for the next term, but also, given the results, that programme has a reasonable chance of becoming cast-iron law.
And that is where we have something to cheer.
Some of our counterparts elsewhere in the world have had to cope with governments losing faith in fish farming, while for the last 14 years we have had a governing party in Scotland which recognises the importance of aquaculture and is prepared to change the law to make sustainable growth more achievable.
The SNP manifesto was clear: the party, if returned to power, would reform the regulatory process to make it speedier and more efficient. More, the SNP would look to replace the current cumbersome, lengthy and bureaucratic planning system with something better. That means replacing the current system and its reliance on four different regulators – each taking turns to look at the concerns of each other – with one single determining authority.
This is technical but it is very, very important. Our farmers have been held back for years by such a turgid planning process that applications have been sitting overdue for hundreds of days.
If we are to compete with our international rivals, we have to have a planning system that is up to the task; and now the SNP has recognised that fact.
As we in the SSPO have argued many times, we need better regulation, not less regulation and now it seems that Scotland’s biggest party seems to agree.
The SNP manifesto did also include a slightly more concerning commitment to explore closed containment on land. But, given that some of Scotland’s biggest salmon producers have championed the use of closed containment for the freshwater phase of salmon development, the benefits of the selective and judicious use of this technology should be something we commend, not shy away from.
While the SNP manifesto’s commitments on salmon farming were clearly well researched and carefully written, the same could not be said for the Scottish Green manifesto. This was the other important policy package on show during the campaign.
The antipathy that the Scottish Greens show towards salmon farming is well known. I’ve written before about how extraordinary it is for a party committed to protecting the environment to attack a sector which has such a great record in this area.
What was most jaw-dropping about the Greens’ manifesto was the party’s support for land-based closed containment for all salmon production in Scotland.
Had the party looked even briefly at this subject they would have realised the ridiculousness of supporting a plan which would increase Scotland’s carbon footprint in a dramatic way.
It takes as much energy to grow one single salmon to market weight in a land-based system as it does to run an average family home in Scotland for nine days. So moving millions and millions of fish from the sea to the land would use as much electricity as building millions more homes and heating them.
Switching from marine production to land-based production is so clearly not a “green” solution but, incredibly, it is now the official policy of the Scottish Green Party.
But there is more to the party’s contradictions than that. The Greens don’t like salmon farming, even though it has the lowest carbon footprint of any comparable livestock protein. The Greens don’t like farm-raised salmon even though it is a healthy, nutritious, locally-sourced food and they want to move away from exports, even though it is precisely sectors like aquaculture which raise the money through exports that the Greens are so keen to spend.
The Green approach is deeply troubling but it is, thankfully, not as important as the SNP one.
The SNP manifesto has, we hope, given us a pretty good roadmap for the development of our sector, at least in regulatory terms, over the next parliamentary term. And, to be honest, it’s a pretty good one.
Manifestos aren’t what they used to be but they still have a key role to play.
If nothing else, the SNP document gives us something to point to and use to hold ministers to account and that is something we will make sure we do.
Most people will forget about manifestos as soon as the campaign is over. We won’t, and we will make sure the SNP don’t either..


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The February 2024 issue of Fish Farmer is out now online