This summary presents the potential benefits to Scotland’s marine sector of independence. It sets out how, with independence, Scotland:
- would be able to apply to rejoin the EU with access to the single market for its seafood products, enjoy the benefits of free movement and negotiate an equitable share of EU funding; and
- could negotiate for its own interests in international marine forums, without reliance on the UK Government to do so on its behalf.
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The report that follows provides more details on these proposals, an analysis of the evidence that informs them, as well as references to sources.
Scotland’s marine sector includes the marine, coastal and freshwater environment of Scotland, the industries and communities it sustains, and the legislation and science that support and manage it. The sector provides significant economic, social and environmental benefits for Scotland.
As an island and maritime nation, our seas, coasts and islands are also part of our national identity and way of life. Our marine industries play a critical role in creating and sustaining jobs in coastal and island locations, ensuring the long term viability of many communities.
Scotland’s marine sector has significant further potential, but that potential can only be reached if we have the full powers to give the sector the support it needs and the prioritisation it deserves. This paper sets out how that could be achieved with independence.
The value of the marine sector in Scotland
Scotland’s marine sector is an area of significant size, strength and value. Our seas are nearly six times larger than the land area of Scotland and make up almost two-thirds of the area of sea controlled by the UK. Scotland’s marine sector is also a key contributor to Scotland’s success, generating £5 billion in gross value added in 2019 and accounting for 3.4% of the overall Scottish economy.
Within the UK, Scotland has the greatest share of marine assets. In 2022, for example, Scotland had 62% of the value and 67% of the weight of all seafood landed by UK fishing vessels and Scottish-farmed Atlantic salmon was the UK’s biggest single food export. In addition to these established industries, Scotland also has emerging and growing sectors, including marine tourism and seaweed, which are of increasing importance in creating jobs in many coastal and island communities.
Scotland’s seas also have significant wind energy potential, with developments such as ScotWind providing an unparalleled opportunity to support the transition from fossil fuels to renewables and ensure a clean and secure energy supply.
Our marine environment is also ecologically important and valuable, with huge marine diversity and populations of marine plants and animals of global significance, including seabirds, freshwater pearl mussels and kelp.
Scotland has a strong track record in protecting our marine environment through our Marine Protected Area network. It is clear, however, that further change is needed to tackle the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. That is why we are also working with communities to explore ways to further enhance marine protection, and to taking action commensurate with the scale of the climate and nature challenges we face.
The limits of the current constitution
The paper sets out how the approach of the current and previous UK governments has limited the marine sector’s growth, and has included actions that are directly against Scotland’s marine interests.
Scotland left the EU against the democratically expressed wishes of the majority of people in Scotland. As explained in the section titled ‘The case for change’, this had led to:
- a Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU that leaves Scotland with access to fewer fishing opportunities than it had under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) for some species
- the creation of major new barriers to seafood trade, significantly increasing certification, packaging and transport costs for seafood exporters to the EU
- the loss of freedom of movement, reducing access to labour throughout the seafood industry, and risking population decline in coastal and island communities.
Beyond Brexit, significant legislative powers – essential for achieving Scotland’s full marine potential – also remain under exclusive Westminster control. That includes reserved competence over international relations, which constrains the pursuit of Scottish interests and limits the involvement of the Scottish Government.
Because of that, Scotland cannot negotiate for its own fisheries interests at an international level and priorities like salmon, which are significantly more important for Scotland than the rest of the UK, face an ongoing risk of being deprioritised in UK free trade negotiations compared to other UK interests.
Existing powers of the Scottish Parliament and Government are also being impacted by a UK Government that has repeatedly shown its willingness to intervene in devolved decision making in areas like marine funding, and which seeks to lower key marine environmental protections achieved during EU membership.
Scotland’s marine sector and independence
Independence would enable the key decisions about the future of Scotland’s marine sector to be made by the Scottish Government and Parliament. Scotland could maintain existing approaches where it makes sense to do so, but also make fundamentally different choices that reflect Scotland’s unique needs and circumstances.
With independence, Scotland would be able to apply to join the EU, giving Scottish seafood exporters unrestricted access to the biggest single market in the world. Our seafood businesses, coastal communities and marine science sector would benefit from freedom of movement within the EU.
As an EU member state, Scotland would be well-placed to make a constructive contribution to the development of current and future EU law such as reforms of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). We would use our marine expertise to maximise efficient and effective delivery of CFP outcomes and other EU strategic priorities, including the transition to renewable energy and growing the blue economy.
We would be able to prioritise our marine interests at the heart of Europe and negotiate a fair share of EU funding to invest in our seafood industry, our coastal communities and our marine science sector.
Scotland would also have a voice on the world stage. For the first time we would have the ability to negotiate at international level, join international bodies and work in partnership with other countries on global marine agendas in our own right.
Our marine potential is an unprecedented opportunity. We look forward to a constructive, open conversation on the best way forward for Scotland’s marine sector.
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