Save our seas

The fishermen come, they take a few decent fish, and they throw the rest away. And at the moment the

This past week a trawler has been fishing around the south end of the island. It has come remarkably close to the shore – sometimes as near as a quarter of a mile. Back and forth it has gone, day and night, scooping up everything it could find. On Friday evening it was joined by three others.

Once onboard, many (perhaps most) of the fish will have been thrown back into the sea dead, because they were undersized. Illogical European laws, intended to protect fish stocks, allow – the fishermen would say encourage – this waste.

Fish stocks around Fair Isle have been steadily depleting over the years. The sea used to provide a living to many of the families on the island, but now it has little to offer. Seabird populations are suffering too, and though the reasons for this decline are complex and not fully understood, hunger is a very real and serious part of the problem.

The fishermen come, they take a few decent fish, and they throw the rest away. And at the moment there is nothing we can do about it.

For more than two decades Fair Isle has been calling for some form of protection for the seas around the island. The marine environment has been, and remains, a crucial part of the island’s sustainability, but it is seriously threatened by over-fishing and also by oil-related shipping in the Fair Isle Channel.
In 1985 the island was awarded a European Diploma by the Council of Europe, and it has since been renewed four times. This award is intended to recognise “protected natural or semi-natural areas of exceptional European interest from the point of view of conservation of biological, geological or landscape diversity that have an appropriate protection status.”

In Fair Isle’s case, the diploma was given “aesthetically because of the beauty of the landscape; culturally because of the existence of a prosperous farming community . . . and scientifically because the island is an important breeding site for seabird populations and a crossroads for certain migratory species”.

Only five areas in the UK have received a European Diploma – the Peak District National Park, Minsmere Nature Reserve, the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, Purbeck Heritage Coast, and Fair Isle. Each of these areas is subject to significant levels of protection for the natural environment. Fair Isle itself is a “National Scenic Area”, and parts of the island are designated as a “Special Protection Area” because of the importance of the bird life.

When renewing the diploma however, the Council of Europe made several recommendations that it felt were essential in order to maintain or improve the situation here. Most important among these were several measures designed to protect the marine environment. Although the UK is meant to take the directives very seriously indeed, so far it has chosen to ignore them.

Much work has been done locally in order to try and push for greater protection of the seas around the island. The Fair Isle Marine Environment and Tourism Initiative has done their best to keep things moving, but it can be frustrating to witness, time and again, the ineptitude of those whose job it is to make the decisions that affect us.

The Scottish Executive has been talking for some time about creating the UK’s first Marine National Park. Fair Isle, of course, would seem a natural contender. But despite Shetland being on the long-list of areas under consideration, and despite the fact that this is probably the only community in Scotland that is entirely united in its desire to be chosen, the signs do not look good.

Fair Isle is crying out for protection. How long before somebody listens?

Photograph by Dave Wheeler

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
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Justin Trudeau points the way forward for European politics

Is the charismatic Canadian Prime Minister modelling the party of the future?

Six months after Canadian election day, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party continues to bask in the glow of victory. With 44 per cent of support in the polls, the Liberals are the most popular party amongst every single demographic – men and women, young and old, and people of all educational backgrounds. 

While most European mainstream parties only dream of such approval, this is actually a small dip for the Liberals. They were enjoying almost 50 per cent support in the polls up until budget day on 21 March. Even after announcing $29.4 billion in deficit spending, Canadians overall viewed the budget favourably – only 34 per cent said they would vote to defeat it.

Progressives around the world are suddenly intrigued by Canadian politics. Why is Justin Trudeau so successful?

Of course it helps that the new Prime Minister is young, handsome and loves pandas (who doesn’t?) But it’s also true that he was leader of the Liberals for a year and half before the election. He brought with him an initial surge in support for the party. But he also oversaw its steady decline in the lead up to last year’s election – leadership is important, but clearly it isn’t the only factor behind the Liberals’ success today.

Context matters

As disappointing as it is for Europeans seeking to unpack Canadian secrets, the truth is that a large part of the Liberals’ success was also down to the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s extreme unpopularity by election time.

Throughout almost ten years in power, Harper shifted Canada markedly to the right. His Conservative government did not just alter policies; it started changing the rules of the democratic game. While centre-right governments in Europe may be implementing policies that progressives dislike, they are nonetheless operating within the constraints of democratic systems (for the most part; Hungary and Poland are exceptions).

Which is why the first weeks of the election campaign were dominated by an ‘Anybody But Harper’ sentiment, benefitting both the Liberals and the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP). The NDP was even leading the polls for a while, inviting pundits to consider the possibility of a hung parliament.

But eight days before election day, the Liberals began to pull ahead.

The most important reason – and why they continue to be so popular today – is that they were able to own the mantle of ‘change’. They were the only party to promise running a (small) deficit and invest heavily in infrastructure. Notably absent was abstract discourse about tackling inequality. Trudeau’s plan was about fairness for the middle class, promoting social justice and economic growth.

Democratic reform was also a core feature of the Liberal campaign, which the party has maintained in government – Trudeau appointed a new Minister of Democratic Institutions and promised a change in the voting system before the next election.

The change has also been in style, however. Justin Trudeau is rebranding Canada as an open, progressive, plural society. Even though this was Canada’s reputation pre-Harper, it is not as simple as turning back the clock.

In a world increasingly taken by populist rhetoric on immigration – not just by politicians like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and other right-wingers, but also increasingly by mainstream politicians of right and left – Justin Trudeau has been unashamedly proclaiming the benefits of living in a diverse, plural society. He repeatedly calls himself a feminist, in the hope that one day “it is met with a shrug” rather than a social media explosion. Live-streamed Global Town Halls are one part of a renewed openness with the media. Progressive politicians in Europe would do well to take note.

Questioning the role of political parties today

Another interesting development is that the Liberal party is implicitly questioning the point of parties today. It recently abolished fee-paying, card-carrying party members. While this has been met with some criticism regarding the party’s structure and integrity, with commentators worried that “it’s the equivalent of turning your party into one giant Facebook page: Click ‘Like’ and you’re in the club,” it seems this is the point.

Colin Horgan, one of Trudeau’s former speechwriters, explains that Facebook is “literally a treasure trove for political parties”. All kinds of information becomes available – for free; supporters become easier to contact.

It was something the Liberals were already hinting at two years ago when they introduced a ‘supporters’ category to make the party appear more open. Liberal president Anna Gainey also used the word “movement” to describe what the Liberals hope to be.

And yes, they are trying to win over millennials. Which proved to be a good strategy, as a new study shows that Canadians aged 18-25 were a key reason why the Liberals won a majority. Young voter turnout was up by 12 per cent from the last election in 2011; among this age group, 45 per cent voted for the Liberals.

Some interesting questions for European progressives to consider. Of course, some of the newer political parties in Europe have already been experimenting with looser membership structures and less hierarchical ways of engaging, like Podemos’ ‘circles’ in Spain and the Five Star Movement’s ‘liquid democracy’ in Italy.

The British centre-left may be hesitant after its recent fiasco. Labour opened up its leadership primary to ‘supporters’ and ended up with a polarising leader who is extremely popular amongst members, but unpopular amongst the British public. But it would be wrong to assume that the process was to blame.

The better comparison is perhaps to Emmanuel Macron, France’s young economy minister who recently launched his own movement ‘En Marche !’ Moving beyond the traditional party structure, he is attempting to unite ‘right’ and ‘left’ by inspiring French people with an optimistic vision of the future. Time will tell whether this works to engage people in the longer term, or at least until next year’s presidential election.

In any case, European parties could start by asking themselves: What kind of political parties are they? What is the point of them?

Most importantly: What do they want people to think is the point of them?

Ultimately, the Canadian Liberals’ model of success rests on three main pillars:

  1. They unambiguously promote and defend a progressive, open, plural vision of society.
  2. They have a coherent economic plan focused on social justice and economic growth which, most importantly, they are trusted to deliver.
  3. They understand that society has changed – people are more interconnected than ever, relationships are less hierarchical and networks exist online – and they are adapting a once rigid party structure into a looser, open movement to reflect that.

*And as a bonus, a young, charismatic leader doesn’t hurt either.

Claudia Chwalisz is a Senior Policy Researcher at Policy Network, a Crook Public Service Fellow at the University of Sheffield and author of The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Need to Change