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BREXIT should set ‘alarm bells’ ringing in the Highlands and Islands, a Holyrood shadow minister has warned, writes senior reporter Sandy Neil.
Scottish Labour’s newly appointed Shadow Minister for environment, climate change and land reform David Stewart said leaving the European Union, as Prime Minister Theresa’s new UK Government is committed to do, presents a huge risk for farmers, infrastructure, and exports such as Scottish salmon.
Mr Stewart, a list MSP for the Highlands and Islands region, said on a fact-finding visit to Oban’s Job Centre on Thursday: ‘It’s clear the remit of the Tory Government is to exit. There are clouds on the horizon that will affect everyone in Argyll and Bute. This affects every party, and every individual.
‘Farming is crucial for the people of Argyll and Bute. Some farmers I speak to have 90 per cent of their income coming from single farm payments [also known as CAP funding]. CAP is funded by Europe. What will happen? No one knows.’
European structural funds, for roads, bridges, causeways, harbours and ferries, are also at risk, he said: ‘Whilst the UK is a net contributor to the EU, the Highlands and Islands was a crucial area for spend, because the EU rightly has a policy of convergence: bringing up poorer areas of the EU to the EU average, and we were at 75 per cent of average GDP.
‘The figures for spend are phenomenal, around £2billion. How is that going to be replaced? [Structural funds] helped fund the UHI, the Mallaig Road, the Kessock Bridge, and just about every causeway in the Western Isles. They’re there to stimulate economic development – that’s why I’m so concerned about exit.’
Jobs in Argyll’s growing salmon industry could also take a hit, he said: ‘If you take businesses in Argyll and Bute that export to Europe, currently there is no tariffs. Take salmon for example, which is one of our crucial exports: if we have tariffs in the future, that’s going to make it more expensive for Scottish exports to the EU. Half our exports don’t go outwith the EU. We need to get a deal that is as near as damn it a single market. Otherwise it’s going to affect export capability, which means jobs and services in Argyll and Bute.
‘It will be a rash man or woman who predicts there will be a single market, or that we will have unified CAP payments. The negotiation takes place with 27 countries versus the one. Alarm bells are ringing with me on all these issues.’