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What are HPMAs and what's the fuss?

The Scottish Government has committed to designating a proportion of Scotland’s seas as highly protected marine areas (HMPA) which will (intend to) protect the ecosystems of the natural environment. It would ban commercial and recreational fishing so that new marine renewable energy schemes can be put in place.

Scotland already has a network of marine protected areas covering 37% of its seas. These plans would be looking to commit a further 10%.

Passionate speeches from both Fergus Ewing and Kate Forbes echo the concerns shared by some island communities, with its potential damage to local economies across the West Coast and the Outer Hebrides.

There is apparent friction between perceivably distant policy-makers in Edinburgh and affected islanders who feel concerns aren’t truly understood by folk unaffected by the proposed changes.

Scotland’s Net Zero Secretary, Mairi McAllan said that if the industry of well-paid jobs, producing high-quality, healthy foods, was to be a “sustainable success story,” then a balance must be struck to mitigate impacts on the natural environment. The Scottish Government have stressed that proposals are like those being developed right across the EU.

Marine conservation groups don’t think the Government’s plans go far enough in the level of area protection, calling for a higher percentage.

Some SNP backbenchers couldn’t be further from McAllan and her Government’s thinking. The most notable of which is Fergus Ewing, who produced a dramatic speech in Parliament this week.

He literally ripped up a copy of the HPMA plans and said this would ‘haunt’ the Government if it went ahead. He hasn’t, in his words, ‘seen anything like’ the ignorance towards Scotland’s fishing industry before.

I noticed when he said this he turned his direction toward the Green MSPs, much like he has done on several occasions in recent memory. Before ripping up the document, he also mentioned both the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) and the advertising ban for alcohol producers as things that should also be torn apart.

He let the weight behind his argument slip here, in my opinion.

There is a relatively small fraction of the Scottish Parliament that is trying to resist the fast-paced movement towards environmental sustainability. The reason Ewing has not ‘seen anything like this’ before is that successive Governments have chosen to ignore the climate emergency despite stark warnings being public knowledge for now decades. It may not have seemed as drastic if we were continuing a long-term action plan… but the sad reality is that short-term, smaller-picture thinking has held us back.

It also doesn’t make the danger any less imminent.

Ewing is a seemingly begrudged member of the SNP that really isny happy with the way his party is going.

A refusal to accept change, trying to cling on to the past, at times irrationally, was evident after listing off policies that had nothing to do with the issue in question… and yet they do coincide with a wider trend of altered thinking in the SNP’s decision-making. An inevitable shift and compromise for a party maintaining power over the best part of two decades, whilst also bearing mindful of their ulterior motive of constitutional change, is one that doesn’t sit well with Ewing.

This is a relatable emotion. We’ve all felt it at some point in our lives… seeing a long-term passion or relationship of yours radically shift in an unsettling place. All completely outwith your control.

That feeling of going over the fine margins in your head a million times that, wondering if your actions might’ve made a difference. The ‘what ifs’ that drive you to near insanity.

We’ve all felt that one way or another.

Worst yet, his concerns on this issue are completely valid. Fishermen across coastal Scotland are worried about the changes to both their economic viability and way of life. Rightly so, with the amount of change that may be afoot. This a scary thought for anyone desperately seeking stability after such chaotic politics in recent years.

And the fine margin, the ‘what if’ in particular, that will be stewing in Ewing’s thoughts will be how close her colleague, Kate Forbes, like-minded on this issue, was to sit in the First Minister’s seat.

Forbes also came forward with what she called a ‘rallying call’ of representation for island communities:

“I’m a fisherman to the bone. I’ve lived through the creel and the wave to provide for a family and home. Generations before me have followed the toil and the call of the seas, but the soul will be torn from our future from the heart of the Hebrides. My people, my language, my island and the rights that our forefathers won, to remain on the soil of the homeland, by the sweep of a pen will be gone. A wrecking ball through our existence. Tradition and culture condemned. At the hands of the arrogant stranger, the clearances all over again…

Faceless, grey suits from the city. They will not play games with our lives.”

Such powerful sentiments were shared by Alasdair Allan who also voted against the proposals. With Annabelle Ewing, Christine Grahame and Ash Regan abstaining, these 6 out of SNP’s 64 MSPs pose as Humza Yousaf’s first rebellion under his watch.

We’re faced with a delicate balance between protecting the environment whilst also accommodating people’s way of life and business.

Perhaps a central belter like myself would feel more strongly if my auld man was a fisherman living in the Hebrides… who are folk fae Edinburgh or Glasgow to talk about climate action with thousands of cars running through our cities?

There will always be an element of selfishness, compromise and hypocrisy in any political decision… but something that we all have common ground in is the moral choice of preserving the natural environment so that generations ahead of us can live as we can.

In the end, something will need to be done.


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