Union in trouble: Why this Scottish fisherman wants freedom from the UK

Scottish fishermen like Bally think independence from the UK would lead to better management of resources. Source: SBS Dateline.

In Scotland’s northern sea lochs, new layers of Brexit bureaucracy are creating challenges for those making a living from the land.

Watch Scottish Independence: Union In Trouble on SBS at 9.30pm, and later on SBS On Demand.

It was a crisp mid-morning as we headed out across the cold dark waters between the Isle of Skye and Scotland’s mainland. 

Bally has been fishing these waters since he was a boy but the tradition goes much deeper. 

Yeah. My grandfather was fishing out here. My dad, most of my uncles. And to be honest with you, most people that end up at the fishing do other things as well,” he tells me from the tiny wheelhouse, one eye on the horizon 

His hand takes hold of the wheel as we head towards his “creels” or prawn pots scattered carefully underwater. 


spent a few years in roped access, like abseiling, rock stabilisation work. It was very intermittent contracts.  

Three months here, six months there, and almost always found myself back on the fishing boats in between jobs. Eventually it just seemed easier just to stick at the fishing.

He’s got 1600 pots out here and has been making a living for years. But it’s not easy, and certainly not an assured income.  

It's a dying tradition. I mean, the fishing industry has been managed so badly or the fisheries themselves have been managed so badly through the decades that it's criminal.  

 If you came here a hundred years ago almost all the fishermen in Scotland would have been employed at the herring fishing. 

And I think it was something like 30,000, maybe a hundred years ago. More than that 50,000 men employed at the herring. Now there's 5,000 fishermen left in Scotland, herrings commercially extinct a long time ago. 

“The issues around fisheries' management are way bigger than most people would like to admit. And it's quite frustrating because I personally can envisage it being sustainable. There's no reason why this community couldn't have a well-managed sustainable fishery going on for another hundred years, but we don't get to regulate or manage our own fishery."

What Bally is referring to is the fact that the amount of fish Scottish fishers can take out of their own waters is determined by a government agency dominated by the officials from the rest of the United Kingdom. And he says Scots don’t have the ability to ban large scale fishing trawlers from the rest of the UK. 

Now this might all sound very inside baseball.

But it is, in my view, fundamental to understanding why many Scots feel the need to run their own country, which means they would then run their own resources.

In this case, you could imagine Bally and his Scottish creel fisherman having a strong voice in how inland fisheries are managed and the real ability to possibly ban large scale trawlers from their waters, which they say, rip up the ocean floor, kill the prawns they hunt for sustainably and therefore kill off the income for the local community. 

Bally sells his shellfish to Europe. To get the prices he needs they have to get there alive. This means fast and seamless transport. When the UK left the EU that all fell apart and he is now saddled with a 30 per cent rise in costs. It basically wipes out his profit margin. 

More than 60 per cent of Scots voted to stay in the EU. So when the UK voted to leave, many felt their voice was again ignored, just as Bally feels it is with fishing. 

Now, we met others, farmers, who send most of their produce south of the border, who say an independent Scotland is not financially viable. They may be right.  

But Brexit did one really important thing. It made Scots who had been previously against independence feel that London didn’t – and never will – listen or recognise their voice. 

This may be the thing that sways a vote for Scottish independence. 

And while this never emerges as something of interest to the voters in England – it is a central issue to the daily lives - and community survival - of people we met in Scotland.  

And that’s the difference.