People across Scotland are waking up to the fact that what happens in our seas increasingly affects us all. And that the policies which determine the way we use our seas are something we, as voters, can influence.
What evidence is there of this? The recent Parliamentary debate of Scotland’s first National Marine Plan was a bit of a watershed moment (and just one of quite a few recent events that we list below).
It gave strong recognition to the many organisations and people who have a strong interest in the sustainable use of our seas. ‘Offshore’ decision-making is arguably still synonymous with the development of the oil and gas industry; and these significant economic interests, such as multinational energy companies and fishing quota owners, continue to shape Scotland’s marine policy. However, increasingly, a wider cross-section of society is stating an interest and alternative vision for the management of our marine resource. Pioneers of this include community-based organisations such as the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST) which represent people in coastal areas and are calling for more sustainable approaches to marine management. We, as environmental charities representing thousands of people across Scotland, also support a more participative approach to marine management that puts ecosystem-based planning at the heart of decision-making.
At the heart of this vision are two basic principles – that local (coastal) communities should have a greater say in the management of Scotland’s inshore waters and that the ecosystem health of our seas should be more firmly respected. The case being made is clear – that Government and local authority processes must involve the public in decision-making that affects the health and use of Scotland’s seas, not just the interests immediately involved in any given development.
COAST and other emergent, local groups are some of the most progressive organisations in Scotland, because they are pushing against a heavy door and some people already in that (decision-making) room do not fully understand that the door should be wide open. The benefits for broader participation are clear: more robust policy (sense-checked – and sometimes driven by – communities), shared responsibility, resource efficiency through collaboration and knowledge-share and, perhaps crucially, more planning certainty. For a long time, members of this campaign have tried to help push this agenda (for example by urging consultative processes to involve ‘all stakeholders’), but at times it has felt like an uphill struggle.
In the past few months, there have been glimmers of hope. Are Scotland’s politicians now waking up to the coastal vote?
Eleven indications of Scotland’s growing “coastal vote”:
- The National Marine Plan – read our blog about the recent Parliamentary debate and our reaction to the recent publication of the Plan
- Inshore Fisheries management report: this is a significant piece of Government-commissioned research that takes forward the debate about the management of Scotland’s inshore fishery by exploring the economics of different management scenarios (£50k well spent). You can read our reaction to the report here and download the full report here
- Government ‘PR’: The Scottish Government puts out proactive press release on the importance of the marine economy (worth £4.5bn in 2012).
- Sea Change: last year a petition was circulated around Wester Ross area that called for changes to the fisheries management around the Summer Isles. This has led to the emergence of a community grouping (Sea Change) that has the stated ambition to develop local management of the inshore area in Wester Ross and improve public awareness about marine issues. The Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs Climate Change and Environment Committee spoke eloquently of their cause in a recent debate.
- Clyde 2020 and a proposed Clyde Regulating Order: after years of development and pre-consultation the Sustainable Inshore Fisheries Trust has now published a draft overview of a new management approach to the Clyde inshore fishery. It has inevitably prompted further debate, but members of this campaign believe it is a good starting point to discuss the need for revised spatial management of the Clyde.
- Scottish Rural Parliament: One of the most promising signs that rural (including coastal) communities are gaining a growing voice at a policy level is the establishment of a Scottish Rural Parliament. Read more about it here
- Crown Estate devolution: this poses a potentially major shift in the centre of gravity for managing the seabed and other public assets (currently stewarded by the Crown Estate). The issue remains highly political, but undoubtedly raises the profile of how we as a country run and manage our public marine resource.
- #DontTakeTheP campaign: members of Save Scottish Seas continue to lead a grassroots campaign to call for the effective management of Marine Protected Areas. Thousands of people responded to the most recent management consultation for inshore MPAs, highlighting that this is not just a niche concern, but an issue that people across Scotland care about. More detail about the campaign here
- Community Empowerment: this is a broader agenda, but pushes in the same direction. At root, new draft legislation – the Community Empowerment Bill – acknowledges that mechanisms for participating in – and shaping – the delivery of local plans and services need to be revised. We offered evidence to the Scottish Parliament during its scrutiny of the draft Bill to and suggested that this thinking should be applied to the forthcoming Regional Marine Planning Partnerships (due to be developed in coming years).
- The early development of Scotland’s emerging MPA network, was not a wholly government-led exercise. The process of allowing “third party proposals” meant that many coastal communities and public interest groups were able to suggest areas for protection. Of the 27 submitted, eight now form parts of designated nature conservation MPAs and three of the four possible MPAs (due for consultation this summer) were TPPs from Whale & Dolphin Conservation. Small Isles Community Council, Gairloch and Wester Loch Ewe and COAST all led successful proposals for their areas and Fair Isle continues to campaign for a Demonstration & Research MPA.
- Scallop fishery consultation: there were over 1,700 responses to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the King Scallop Fishery – a very clear indication that people care about this area of marine management.
A wave of change is surging along our shores. It’s vital that our representatives harness it.