‘No HPMAs without consent’ confusion
This would effectively eliminate the possibility of them being imposed on the inshore waters of the Western Isles and other west coast communities where there has been overwhelming opposition to the plans.
Mr Yousaf’s statement contrasted with his previous position that introducing HPMAs was a “red line” in the SNP’s agreement with the Scottish Green Party. While the change of stance, which appeared to be impromptu, was welcomed, fresh doubt was promptly created by a follow-up statement from the Scottish Government.
The Gazette asked them to clarify “the status of the First Minister's statement that ‘we will not impose these policies on communities that do not want them’ – is this a categoric assurance?”. However, the reply, in the name of the Minister responsible, Mairi McAllan, completely ignored the question and offered only bland comment on the consultation process.
Mr Yousaf’s comments on HPMAs did not form part of his statement to MSPs on Tuesday about his programme for government. This was in contrast to other policy delays and reversals on issues like the Deposit Return Scheme and bans on alcohol advertising.
His verbal commitment only arose through a subsequent question from the Conservative rural affairs spokeswoman, Rachel Hamilton, who asked if he would “listen to rural and coastal communities and drop the reckless Highly Protected Marine Area proposals”.
Mr Yousaf replied that they would consider responses to the consultation but then added, crucially: “A very basic principle that we have always operated by, which I reaffirm today, is that we will not impose these policies on communities that do not want them, so we will work constructively with those communities”.
The secretary of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association, Duncan Macinnes, who is also deputy leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, responded on Wednesday: “I heard it! He has said it in the Scottish Parliament and now he has to be held to it – HPMAs will not be imposed on communities that do not want them.
“Since there is unanimous opposition to them in the Western Isles, which accounts for 22 per cent of all Scotland’s inshore waters, that is a very important statement which I welcome and which must now be followed through on”.
He pointed out that submissions to the consultation from both the Comhairle and the WIFA maintained that “an HPMA should never be introduced against the stated will of a host community”. Mr Macinnes noted that this was almost exactly the wording that Mr Yousaf had volunteered in Parliament.
Western Isles Labour candidate, Torcuil Crichton, said: “There is no doubt about what Mr Yousaf said in Parliament. Everyone watching television heard it. Anyone who consults the Official Record can read it. Now he must be held to it – no HPMAs without community approval”.
Ms McAllan’s statement said: "I want to give my assurance that I am listening and absolutely recognise the value that Scotland’s fishing and aquaculture sectors play in contributing to our economic prosperity. I commit to visiting coastal and island communities in the coming months to hear directly from those people affected.
“At the moment, we are at the very early stages of developing HPMAs and are yet to consider where they might be located as part of a separate process.”
She added: “ I am determined to ensure that as many voices as possible are heard”.