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Our coastal economies will net costs of Marine bill

  • Date: Monday 8th May 2023
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Last week saw heated debate around the controversial proposals to introduce Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) which would make 10 per cent of Scotland’s seas off-limits.

That means no fishing or aquaculture of any kind on selected sites, no seaweed harvesting or even new marine renewable energy schemes - and it has caused uproar among coastal communities.

MSPs discussed the proposals in the Scottish Parliament and there were calls for a rethink, but the government defeated this motion.

However there was a small ray of hope for critics in the form of an amendment, passed with 61 votes to 55.  It stated that HPMAs won’t be imposed on communities which are “vehemently” imposed on them.

For those who aren’t familiar with these plans, let me explain - HPMAs are designed to allow nature to recover to a more natural state by protecting species and habitats.

But there’s a delicate balancing act that needs to be performed, weighing up business interests on one side and environmental protection on the other.

It’s a perfect example of the complex challenges that we face as a society today and I reckon this type of business v environment battle is one that will keep rearing its head across various industries.

A huge number of individuals and organisations have voiced their concerns about the policy – most notably the fishing industry, for obvious reasons.

The sector feels that it’s constantly being squeezed and believe the government isn’t giving due consideration to the impact of the displacement of fishing activity and business.

These plans aim to safeguard the integrity of our waters but the counter-argument is that they could have a devastating economic impact.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation didn’t pull any punches when it shared its views, saying the impact of the plans could be “catastrophic”.

It’s calling for a “radical rethink” or, failing that, a couple of pilot projects to test the waters and find out if there’s scientific basis for wider roll-out.

Others who piled in with criticism include the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation and Salmon Scotland who fear for these already fragile communities.

If you’re not up to speed on the value of these industries to Scotland, let me tell you just how significant they are. In 2021, Scottish exports of fish and seafood were valued at an incredible £1bn and accounted for 60 per cent of total Scottish food exports. Scotland also makes up 63 per cent of total UK fish exports.

So even a small change in policy could see a huge impact on the revenue generated by an industry for which we are internationally renowned.

Meanwhile there’s also the impact on the coastal communities to consider, with fears of job losses.

Wading in on the argument was traditional Scottish music band Skippinish who co-wrote a protest song in collaboration with a lifelong Vatersay fisherman called Donald Francis MacNeil.

It’s called “The Clearances Again”, a pretty bold statement likening the Scottish government’s plans to the controversial Highland Clearances which saw the forced eviction of people in the Highlands and Western isles back in the 18th century.

The song warns that the proposals represent a wrecking ball through their very existence.

I can’t see it making its way up the charts as quickly as Miley Cyrus’s tune ‘Wrecking Ball’, but that’s not what they’re angling for.   They want these plans to sink.

While MacNeil has probably faced some pretty nerve-wracking conditions at sea, he faces a new challenge this Friday (12th) when he and the band debut the song at Aberdeen Concert Hall in the hope it will keep this big issue in the spotlight.

It’s important to note that not everybody is opposed the plans, and in fact some environmentalists even argue that they don’t go far enough.

I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this and I can understand why the future looks scary for those who live and work in these coastal communities.  I can see why they’d feel it’s equally important to look after their own habitats.



With recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing that Scotland's unemployment rate has fallen to a record low, you would believe that everything is rosy within the world of work.

However, a recent survey, conducted by independent insights agency Opinion Matters, on behalf of Glasgow school Kelvinside Academy, found 77 per cent of Scottish parents believe schools are not preparing our young people appropriately for the modern jobs market.

The research, covering what parents think of the current education system, found more than two-thirds of respondents are worried about the ‘ageing curriculum’. What’s more, 65 per cent of parents believe schools are more focused on securing university places than looking after the best interests of individual pupils.

It is an interesting train of thought. For example, we’ve seen the digital sector quickly boom, and with the likes of AI moving at an exponential rate – so is our current education system nimble enough to ensure our young people can compete within a global digital jobs market?

I’m worried they may it may not be.

With those studying for school qualifications currently on exam leave, how many really understand what they want to be? Or are they hoping to secure a higher education place, as it’s just ‘the right thing to do’?

Our curriculum must prepare everyone for the world, whether that’s higher and further education, apprenticeships or even entrepreneurship.

Having held ambassadorial and mentoring roles at Strathclyde University, along with numerous other opportunities to showcase entrepreneurship here in Scotland, I believe our schools are not doing enough for the individual, especially around the path to becoming an entrepreneur.

With the results of a Scottish Government consultation on education reform due out in the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see just how much the future of schooling is set to change. Hopefully for the better.



Scotland punches well above its weight when it comes to innovation and leaving our mark on the world.

And as I’ve highlighted previously, we’re looking more and more to the sky as our next frontier, as Scotland competes within the global space industry.

Earlier this year Shetland completed construction on the first vertical launch stool in mainland Europe, and we have many more areas in the country earmarked for potential steppingstones into space.

Perhaps it is telling, then, that Scotland is also home to the UK’s official number one UFO hotspot, with Edinburgh topping the list.

In a recent study commissioned by National Geographic, 18 per cent of residents in the Scottish city are convinced they’ve had a legitimate sighting.  Looks like Bonnybridge has got a rival when it comes to UFO spotting!


Weep (133 words)

It seems that every week we are lamenting another well-known business having gone to the wall, and unfortunately this trend continues.

Despite the glimmers of hope within Scotland’s economy, it made worrying reading recently that Scottish companies are being wound up at the highest rate we have seen in more than a decade.

According to official data from Scotland’s insolvency service, The Accountant in Bankruptcy, 1,132 firms became insolvent in Scotland over the past 12 months. That’s a rise of 32.6 per cent on the previous year, and the highest since the 1,369 recorded in 2011-12.

With the figures being put down to a post pandemic hangover, alongside rising costs in labour, energy and stock, it will be some way to go before insolvency numbers begin to ease once again.






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