Richard North, 10/05/2004  

Cod crisis may sway Scottish constitution vote

"Scotland’s vote on the planned EU constitution could be hijacked by hostilities over the fishing crisis, Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell admitted today. The strength of public feeling over the much-vilified common fisheries policy had dealt a damaging blow to Scotland’s traditionally pro-European stance, he told Brussels-based think tank, the European Policy Centre."

So opens a report in Eupolitix, retailing an account of the Scottish First Minister’s visit to Brussels. Continuing on this theme, he told delegates, "Given the mood as things currently stand around issues like fishing in Scotland, I am not at all convinced that the so-called pro-European mood in Scotland is necessary any stronger than in England."

While remaining upbeat that the argument could be won, McConnell predicted an uphill struggle in the campaign for a yes vote, where nationalist parties would "whip up anti-European feeling" over the EU’s draconian fishing cutbacks.

"There is a danger that the argument around fishing becomes in Scotland not just symbolically important but distorted in a way that all European debate has been throughout the UK regularly these past 20 years," he said. Increasing disillusionment with EU decision-making was part of an overall public disillusionment that politics was "out of touch."

"I don’t think we should underestimate that there will be reluctance in Scotland just as much as there is in England to any impression that people are losing more control of their own lives," he added.

McConnell was on a visit to Brussels to lobby Prodi for more recognition for Scotland, as one of Europe’s larger "regions". "Ancient nations and regions feel as if smaller countries, smaller parts of Europe have more power that they can exercise at the centre", he said. As the current rules stand, tiny Malta – with a population of just 394 000 – has more political clout round the Brussels negotiating table on crucial issues such as fishing than the Scottish Executive.

To say nothing of land-locked Hungary, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

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