The Scottish Conservatives have revealed new plans to support the fishing industry ahead of the Holyrood election but they have been accused of having a “brass neck” by opponents.
The party has pledged to bring fishing industry stakeholders together with the UK and Scottish governments to agree a “shared vision” for the future.
Maurice Golden, Scottish Conservative candidate for Angus South, said the Tories would “negotiate a sector-wide deal for Scottish fishing”.
However, the SNP claim Brexit has been a “catastrophe” for the sector, with the north-east fishing industry “sold down the river”.
The Scottish Conservatives plan to encourage bids to create freeports, while also looking at ways in which existing ports can expand and create new jobs.
This would include a growth strategy that would prioritise port communities for the Community Investment Deals the party has pledged, worth up to £25 million.
The party’s proposals also involve a review into amending planning regulation to help ports expand; the opportunity to become enterprise areas and prioritising infrastructure projects around ports to support freight.
Mr Golden said: “Our plans would ensure Scotland’s coastal communities are no longer left behind and, crucially, they would help to create much-needed jobs as we recover from Covid.
“We would negotiate a sector-wide deal for Scottish fishing, bringing together catchers, processors and the Scottish and UK governments to agree a shared vision for the industry’s future.
“We would support freeport bids from across Scotland. These will encourage trade, create jobs and regenerate communities.”
We exclusively revealed earlier this month that the UK Government is prepared to step in and set up freeports with special tax status in Scotland if an agreement is not reached with Holyrood ministers.
Freeports are given special status and can defer paying tax until products are moved on.
Scottish trade minister Ivan McKee has written to the Treasury to push talks along, with the Scottish Government hoping for two fully funded sites from bidding port authorities, with Aberdeen seen by some as a frontrunner.
Mr Golden claims the SNP’s “hostility” to freeports “confirms a dangerous lack of interest in business which is holding Scotland back”.
The candidate for Angus South added: “The SNP performed a spectacular U-turn on the idea of freeports only after persistent pressure from the Scottish Conservatives and now, more than ever, we need to encourage growth and job creation in every way possible.”
An SNP spokesman said Brexit has “sold the north-east fishing industry down the river”, with exports to the EU “plummeting as a result”.
He added: “The Tories have a brass neck even talking about the seafood industry – instead of the opportunities which they boasted Brexit would bring, it has been a catastrophe for the sector.
“Scottish fishermen are suffering as a result of the wretched deal the Tories negotiated which is fraught with broken promises.
“Catch quotas have gone up, paperwork and red tape has increased and costs have gone through the roof.
“The best policy for the future of the Scottish fishing industry is to gain access to the EU single market again and the only way we can do that is by Scotland becoming an independent country, giving Scotland’s fishing industry a seat at the top table for the first time.
“For that reason it must be both votes SNP to put Scotland’s future into Scotland’s hands.”