Who delivers the goods for Scotland – the UK or EU?

Who delivers the goods for Scotland – the UK or EU?

by Neil Stratton
article from Wednesday 15, April, 2020

MY PREVIOUS ARTICLE in this series, The UK or EU - which is the model union for the Scottish fishing industry?, contrasted the way the European Union and the United Kingdom share out fishing opportunities and highlighted how Scotland received a much better deal through its membership of the United Kingdom than the United Kingdom did from its membership of the European Union.

A related article, Relative values of European fishing industries – and deciding what matters to us, written for Brexit-Watch.org, assesses the importance of fishing to the economies of the current and former EU members that fish in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This article applies a similar analysis to the Scottish fishing industry and economy to see just how important the one is to the other, and how much more important it might be in future if the United Kingdom and European Union negotiate a future fisheries agreement that matches opportunities to contribution… or smaller and less important if an independent Scotland re-joins the EU and its Common Fisheries Policy.  Table 1*  presents the value of landings from the NE Atlantic made by the eight current EU members that fish in the UK EEZ and also the landings made by Scotland, the rest of the UK and the UK as a whole.  

Table 1: Value of ‘EU’ landings from UK EEZ and NE Atlantic as a proportion of GDP

* STECF DS filter (NE Atlantic, including Greenland but excluding Azores, Canaries) + Baltic

Based on average catches for 2010-2016, 2017 data call

The share of the cake that Scotland receives currently is the result of the quotas that the EU allocates to the UK and then how the UK divides those quotas up between the fleets of the home nations. Without going into the detail here of how these allocations are arrived at; the one used by the EU allots the UK 27.5 per cent of the catch by weight, whilst the EU takes 56.3% of its NE Atlantic catch from the UK and EU27 EEZs from the UK EEZ – whilst the one used by the UK allots Scotland a 63.1 per cent share of landings by weight, compared with a 58.9 per cent share of the UK EEZ.

The above table (which differs from those presented in ‘…which is the model union’ by being based on the value of the landings of 40 individual species, but also including catches from international waters in the NE Atlantic, the Norwegian and Faroese EEZs and the Baltic) shows that the UK lands 30.6 per cent by value but that 44.0 per cent  of the value is extracted from its EEZ. The disparity is not so great as when analysed by weight or if the Baltic is excluded, but it’s still glaring.

Chop the figures how you like, again and again what you find is that the EU takes more than it gives.

However, that’s an aside. The thrust of this article is to examine how Scotland has fared from this sharing out of the cake. Not too badly is the answer. Even though some might argue the way the UK has been treated by the EU is pretty shabby, the UK, in those areas of fisheries administration that have remained within its remit, has ensured that Scottish landings, by value, are 59.4 per cent of UK landings – very close to its 58.9 per cent share of the UK EEZ – and as an industry fishing is worth more to the Scottish economy than it is to any other EU member in NW Europe that fishes in the UK EEZ.

Fishing, measured in terms of first sale values, is worth 2.3 times as much to the Scottish economy as it is to the Danish one, the EU member fishing in the UK EEZ for whom it is next most important. It is worth over ten times the EU average and it is 18 times more important than it is to the rest of the UK. If fishing matters to anyone in the EU, it matters to Scotland.

So, why would anyone jeopardize that? But that is precisely what the SNP goal of independence followed by re-accession to the EU has the potential to do.  

The picture painted by Table 1 is based on figures from 2010-2016, when the UK, including Scotland, was a member of the EU. Surely, if an independent Scotland sought to re-join the EU the worst it might expect would be to secure the same level of quota that it previously had whilst still a member as a constituent part of the UK?

Some proponents of independence followed by re-accession are more ambitious, arguing a Scotland re-joining the EU would be able to secure some kind of special deal for its quota that the EU does not grant to any other fishing nation. Others might view this as illusory. Remember, it was the refusal to waive application of the CFP that was the primary reason Norway withdrew from its accession process. If the EU was unwilling to bend to Norway, a country with a much larger EEZ and fish resources than Scotland, why would it do so to Scotland?

In reality, the likelihood is that the quota would be cut; and here’s why.

The United Kingdom has already left the EU and is currently negotiating the details of its future relationship with it. In the current series of article drawing on data compiled by EH99, it is argued there is a disparity between what the UK gives and what it receives, and that in future its share of fishing opportunities should match its share of the resource. This too is the stated negotiating position of the UK government, which is proposing that future opportunities should be based on what it refers to as zonal attachment, rather than relative stability.

Let us assume that it achieves its negotiating goal and the $1,583.1 of fish landed (we’re talking indicators here, not forecasts) from the UK EEZ in Table 1 is now reallocated to the UK fleet. Without even considering whether or not some of the EU28catch in the Norwegian and Faroese EEZs and international waters might also come the UK’s way, that would mean a cut in the value of EU27 landings from $2,494.5 to $2,014.2 million.

Let us further assume that the £1,583.1 million that came the UK’s way was divvied up in the same way as at present, and Scotland received 59.4 per cent of the value. That would mean Scotland’s share of the booty would be $940.4 million.

If Scotland remains in the UK and out of the EU, its fishing industry secures an additional $286.0 million in first sale value and the value of its fishing industry to the Scottish economy rises to $3.985 million/billion, or roughly 0.4 per cent of GDP, close to 20 times the EU28 average and rather more than that for the EU27 average, since the EU27 average would have declined following the loss of UK fish to $0.165 m/bn.

The rest of the UK would receive an additional $195.2 million and fishing would be worth $0.222 million/billion, much lower than for Scotland but now above the EU28 average, let alone the EU27 average.

That’s the upside. Substantial additional value and a fishing industry that is an even more important part of the Scottish economy than at present.

But what if a newly independent Scotland seeks to re-join the EU27, restoring it to twenty-eight and taking with it its $940.4 million of fish? That would bring the EUnew28 total back up to $2,954.6 million – $642.7 million less than when the UK was a member because the rest of the UK has not re-joined alongside Scotland and has retained its increased share.

How would the EUnew28 cut up and share out this new (reduced) cake? The EU28 cake is now 18.9 per cent smaller than it was when the UK was a member. So, in the event that Scotland fails to negotiate some kind of special deal, never granted to any other country, might Scotland’s share decline by 18.9 per cent, cutting it from $654.4 million to $530.7 million and its value to the economy to $2.249 m/bn.

Table 2 below summarizes these possible impacts on Scottish landings and their importance to the Scottish economy.

Table 2 Possible impact of future scenarios

The above figures, which are based on past landing patterns, are not intended as precise forecasts but as indicators of what the consequences of Scottish independence and re-accession might be. So, whilst it might not be precisely a 44% rise or a 19% cut, this is the direction in which the wind would be blowing.

Which Union – the United Kingdom or European Union really would serve Scotland’s interests best?


* Please refer to the earlier articles The UK or EU - which is the model union for the Scottish fishing industry? and Relative values of European fishing industries – and deciding what matters to us  for a more detailed explanation of the methodology used to arrive at the figures presented in this article.

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