LAST week’s business in Parliament really shone a light on Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) and the issues surrounding them.

There were two debates, one a member’s business debate brought to the chamber with a motion by Beatrice Wishart MSP, and a Conservative party debate brought to the chamber by Rachael Hamilton MSP. I spoke in both and I would like to be very candid with you in what led to my decisions on the motion and my thoughts now.

I am grateful I have this outlet to be candid, and I hope that discussing this in the way I do comes across how I intend it to. There can be a lot of smoke and mirrors in politics, and I often find that constructive work on real issues gets hindered by the politicking of it all. The reason being that it is often an area where any sign of perceived weakness is pounced upon.

When there is an issue that grabs the votes and the popularity of the people, you better believe it’s going to be turned into ammunition.

I often get caught up in the detail – I like to have a vision or goal, and when I decide on what that looks like I will take many hours pondering over every single route and path, every single consequence and possible route which that also takes. What makes that hard is sometimes you just can’t predict all outcomes, and sometimes people and their decisions are unpredictable.

If that isn’t enough, add in bad-faith actors.

If anyone reading this relates to what I am saying, you’ll get it when people say you overthink, or you are assumed to be a daydreamer when it’s quite the opposite.

Last week was one of those weeks I just had to step back and look at where debates were heading, and for what purpose. I represent several coastal communities across the Banffshire and Buchan coast and in recent weeks, several constituents had contacted me with significant concerns among stakeholders regarding HPMAs.

To set the context for why any upheaval is so daunting you must realise that coastal communities have lives and livelihoods dependent on fisheries, and they have meaningful contributions they make to both the culture and economy of Scotland.

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Over the last number of years, fishers have had to battle with the cumulative impact of the pandemic, awful Brexit deals, and the post-Brexit immigration issues. It gave me cause to really stop and challenge the Government on their proposals, and to read through carefully the proposed motion by the Conservatives.

This is where I saw the politics come into play. Are we really supposed to believe, after everything the Tories have done over the past few years to bring our rural industries to the brink, that they are trustworthy and care, or is this something which they have seen a crack in and have decided to wedge right open?

In March, it was announced that HPMAs will be introduced south of the Border by the Tory UK Government and the hypocrisy I witnessed last week in the chamber was astonishing. In the 2021 Scottish elections, the Tory manifesto included a commitment to HPMAs!

Therefore, I wanted to state in my speech that we cannot simply let the politicising of our rural sector go on, it has never worked out well. Fishers have lost trust in politicians to deliver – for them, and who can blame them?

To take the emotions of the people who are desperately scared for what might happen to their communities – people who are likening it to the Clearances, it is that emotive for them – and to then use that to score points is in my eyes the real betrayal.

What fishing communities need is something only they can tell us. If we are to be successful in our efforts to tackle the climate and biodiversity crises and restore marine habitats, we must take the key stakeholders of the blue economy with us.

They know the seas and want them to be abundant and fruitful for future generations. So, let’s ask them what we can do, ensure they are fully informed and have all the evidence and up-to-date science they can have. We must do more than just listen to fishers; we must act on their concerns. From what I can see, they don’t feel like this is the case.

We place so much responsibility for delivering net zero on our rural industries so we must remember that our farmers and fishers are also responsible for our country’s food security.

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If we place ever-greater burdens on them, we must ensure that we also provide the relative support needed to do that, whether it’s financial or otherwise.

In all of my discussions I have with rural industry, I can say they know what they must do, and they want to do it, but there are many hurdles in the way.

I have been able to have constructive conversations with the Government, and I welcomed the commitment to have fully comprehensive negotiations.

This must be led by lived experience and must not be a top-down approach. I have always been an advocate for lived experience shaping policy, it’s how we make good law, fit for purpose.

I was also glad to hear the First Minister’s recent commitment to not impose upon any community a policy to which they are vehemently opposed. And I asked Mairi McAllan, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero and Just Transition, to echo that commitment.

In response, she told me she was “happy to reiterate the First Minister’s commitment” and that she firmly believes “you don’t impose policies on communities”.

Unfortunately, we are in a place where I believe that the politicising is going to get worse I only hope that those who need to be empowered will be, and that those who take advantage are seen clearly for what they are doing.

Rural Scotland deserves better.