Selling salmon in Westminster

Westminster

The UK general election may involve political upheaval, but it is also an opportunity for the salmon sector, explains Tavish Scott

I was in Westminster when the Prime Minister announced he was going to the country.

A meeting with Labour’s Shadow Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) team to discuss the importance of our sector suddenly became even more pertinent, as the rumours of Rishi Sunak’s decision swept through political circles.

At the time of writing, Labour has a commanding lead in the opinion polls – as it has done for some considerable time – and the party is widely expected to form the next UK government.

If that is what the voters choose, there will not only be a new incumbent of Number 10 Downing Street, but an entire new Cabinet and ministerial team – plus potential changes to what is called the “machinery of government” (“MOG”) by Keir Starmer’s chief of staff, Sue Gray.

There will be a lot of work for the Salmon Scotland team to ensure that we continue our early engagement on behalf of our sector.

But regardless of which party emerges victorious in the contest, Scotland will also be sending several new MPs to Westminster, and saying goodbye to others.

The SNP’s Ian Blackford, who represented the now abolished seat of Ross, Skye and Lochaber, has long been a champion for Scottish salmon – but he is now stepping down after a long political career.

I wish him well in retirement, and I’m sure he will still be a significant voice in politics.

In Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Angus MacNeil faces an uphill struggle now that he is an independent candidate, so the bookies are tipping Labour’s Torcuil Crichton to win that seat.

Torcuil understands the vital importance of our sector – and I went with him when we took Shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray to see a Bakkafrost Scotland farm there last year.

If the pollsters are right, Ian will be the new Scottish Secretary – so I was encouraged to see that he praised the economic contribution of Scottish salmon when he spoke at the launch of Scottish Labour’s election pledges in Greenock, alongside Keir Starmer.

And there may well be political changes in areas where our supply chain operates as well.

For example, the new Hamilton and Clyde Valley seat takes in DFDS Logistics in Larkhall – the current MP is standing down, and Labour and the SNP are locked in a battle there.

So when the dust settles after July 4, we will be busy bringing all the new MPs up to speed on our sector.

Polling station

The British people go to the polls next month

Key points for the politicians
The work to inform political parties is, however, well underway.

We have urged parties to support the continued success of the Scottish salmon sector, the UK’s largest food export, and explained that we want to work with government to deliver sustainable economic growth, generate jobs in remote communities and in the UK-wide supply chain, and provide the best animal welfare in the world.

Our detailed asks were provided to all main political parties in advance of their manifesto publications.

Our key asks of the next UK government – whatever form it takes – are:
1) We want to see a more enlightened approach to the movement of labour into the UK, which recognises the unique challenges our coastal and rural farming communities face, including a change to key worker definitions and a broader public signal that the UK is open to people coming here to work.

2) We want a serious, pragmatic approach to the UK’s relationship with the EU, with a clear focus on the nation’s export businesses which depend on a positive, professional relationship with France and the other countries of the EU.

3) We need the UK and EU to create a bespoke and mutually convenient Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) agreement which returns efficiencies to supply chains on both sides of the Short Straits to help consumers and businesses in both territories.

4) We need smooth trade flow and access to new markets. Specifically, the lack of a new eCertification for export health certificates (EHCs), together with problems in the current outdated system, is costing salmon farmers millions of pounds every year. Improving the certification programme should be an urgent priority for Defra.

5) And there must be support for Scottish salmon as a UK geographical indication (GI) and continued consumer protection against the passing off, or mislabelling, of products as seafood where no seafood is present.

The political party manifestos will not go into this level of detail, but it is important that policy teams understand what our sector needs.

Away from the general election drama, the Salmon Scotland team has also been engaging with the Scottish Parliament’s rural affairs and islands committee, which is continuing its ongoing work programme looking at our sector.

The work is part of an inquiry that first started in 2018, so it is right for an update to be provided given that Scottish salmon is the UK’s largest food export, generating more than £750m for the Scottish economy and sustaining around 12,500 jobs.

But it is important that MSPs get a full picture of the salmon sector, and don’t just listen to urban-based activists who want to close farms.

If your local MSP is on the committee, I’m sure they would welcome your insight.

We are looking forward to committee members visiting a salmon farm later this autumn – many of them for the first time – so they can see for themselves the reality of our sector.

And most importantly, they must listen to the hard-working farmers who take care of their fish and deliver the highest animal welfare standards anywhere in the world.

That’s the same message that we will be delivering to their new Westminster colleagues after the general election.

It’s a time of major change in Scottish politics – and we’re here to ensure that all our elected representatives are given the facts about our Scottish salmon success story.

Tavish Scott is Chief Executive of Salmon Scotland.

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