Time to hit the reset button

Scottish Parliament

Salmon Scotland chief executive Tavish Scott argues that the government’s task is to create the conditions for change and growth, not interfere or hold back business

My daughter runs a family farm, and we are in the midst of lambing.

This means an hourly check on pregnant ewes as well as the weather forecast.

Rain and particularly wind can mean cold lambs; sunshine means happy sheep and growing grass.

Watching and feeding animals while attending to problems is a skillset for a shepherd as for a fish farmer – farming and fish farming have many features in common.

As I crossed Bressay Sound to the farm in my role as under-shepherd, two Inverlussa vessels were dwarfed by the majesty of a three-masted Polish schooner.

Lerwick is a busy port. The nightly ferry arrives from Aberdeen, and 120 cruise liners moor in the Sound disgorging tens of thousands of visitors between Easter and October.

But the mainstays of economic activity are salmon farming and the wider seafood sectors.

The day-to-day activities of active people in business and local places can often seem remote from those trusted to run the country who appear obsessed by themselves and their future.

I listen to radio news during lambing days, and the soap opera that is UK politics switches from London to Edinburgh and back again.

Very little news is about the needs of local communities or business.

The contrast with the scale, professionalism and can-do of last month’s Barcelona’s Seafood Expo Global (SEG24) could not be greater.

The Barcelona event is the definition of commerce – last week sales were made, contracts worked out, and contacts developed.

To her great credit, Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon spoke to numerous seafood people and companies during her day at SEG24.

She found time too for an ad hoc meeting with Margaret Johnson, the Aquaculture Minister of New Brunswick in Canada, which matters as the Scottish-Canadian connections endure.

Scotland’s minister for seafood was pushed politely but firmly on delivery by her government.

Scottish salmon is the UK’s leading food export by volume, and we could be even stronger – the demand for premium fish from Scotland is considerable.

Companies need the business conditions to succeed, which means real progress on a consenting system which still involves four different regulators – we do not yet have the “one-stop shop” recommended by Professor Russel Griggs.

Nor do we have clear, accountable leadership in the fish farm consenting process. Regulators miss statutory targets, yet nothing happens.

So does the removal of the Greens from the Scottish Government mean a change of direction?

At the time of writing, Humza Yousaf has announced his resignation, but what happens next is unclear.

Will there be a full reset of the Scottish Government? Is the end of the Bute House Agreement helpful? Time will tell.

Humza Yousaf, outgoing First Minister

Humza Yousaf, outgoing First Minister

Time for a real-world approach
The occupant of Bute House in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square until the Holyrood election in May 2026 matters to our sector.

Barring unforeseen events, Scotland will have a minority SNP government for the remainder of this parliament.

That means no significant new laws unless the SNP has cut a deal with another party, and it means government by ministerial action.

That does not bode well for business. Why? Because action is what we have not seen.

Over the last 12 months with Humza Yousaf as First Minister there has been a focus on what has stopped, rather than new initiatives to boost the economy.

Yousaf rightly ditched HPMAs (Highly Protected Marine Areas) which would have halted all economic activity in coastal waters, shelved the Deposit Return Scheme, and binned a ban on alcohol promotions which had obviously not been discussed with our friends and colleagues in the whisky sector.

Tax is the most significant change made by the now defunct SNP-Green coalition.

Everyone in Scotland earning more than £27,000 per year pays more to the government than south of the border.

This is the legacy of the Scottish Green Party: they are openly anti-economic growth, anti-business, and do not resort to facts, evidence, science or data to inform their position towards many sectors of our economy that employ hundreds of thousands of people.

They are an extreme party on the fringes, and few people running businesses will mourn their departure from government.

Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie, Co-leaders of the Scottish Greens

Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie, Co-leaders of the Scottish Greens

What Scottish business does need is a real-world approach to climate change.

A reset of the Edinburgh government could take its many regulators and move them into the world we live in.

Regulators should regulate the future not the past.

Climate change is a genuine challenge for government and business, so regulators could be given a mandate to help business achieve net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by a target date.

That date should not be set by political criteria (the idea that Scotland must be faster than London no matter what), but by criteria based on climate science.

The market will provide solutions – just look at marine engines and boat design.

The salmon sector now has many vessels delivering people to sea pens that are electrically powered.

We also have hybrid feed barges and larger vessels; innovation in the marketplace is driving positive change.

Government’s task is to create the conditions for change and growth, not interfere or hold back business.

A reset government in Edinburgh should fully embrace such an approach.

Tavish Scott is Chief Executive of Salmon Scotland. 

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