Brendan O'Hara pictured in Oban. "We have been given an opportunity to make sure that our voice is heard. It is essential that the people of Argyll & Bute speak out now," said the MP.

Argyll & Bute MP launches new campaign against no-go zones in sea

SNP's Westminster chief whip sends out 11,000 letters urging constituents to show First Minister they are 'vehemently opposed' to HPMAs


The proposal by Scotland’s SNP-Green government to ban fishing and aquaculture from 10% of the nation’s seas is facing a new attack – from the SNP’s own chief whip at Westminster.

Brendan O’Hara, SNP MP for Argyll & Bute, has previously spoken out against the plan to introduce Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) but has now stepped up his fight by sending out letters to 11,000 constituents in which he urges them to write to Scottish government First Minister Humza Yousef to let him know the strength of feeling against the plan.

In a press release, he said he wants them to leave the Scottish government “in absolutely no doubt as to the strength of feeling that exists across Argyll & Bute on the issue of HPMAs”.

Guided by the people

O’Hara has seized upon comments made by First Minister Humza Yousef and Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon that suggested that HPMAs would not be imposed on communities that were “vehemently opposed” to them.

The MP said: “I am pleased and encouraged that both the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary have indicated a willingness to listen to and be guided by the people who will be most affected by these HPMAs, should they go ahead.

“We have been given an opportunity to make sure that our voice is heard. It is essential that the people of Argyll & Bute speak out now and leave the government in absolutely no doubt as to the dire economic and social consequences that HPMAs would bring to our already economically fragile communities.”

10% of the sea

The proposal to designate at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as HPMAs by 2026 is the result of the Bute House Agreement in which the SNP minority government gave the Scottish Green Party influence over policy and two ministerial posts in return for the Greens’ votes at Holyrood.

More than a third of Scotland’s waters are already designated as Marine Protected Areas which place limits on activities that threaten specific features in those areas, but the HPMAs would offer blanket protection to everything in them, regardless of specific need.

The Scottish Government's Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan, who is overseeing HPMAs, has stressed that the proposal is at an early stage and that no sites have been chosen. But she has made no concession over the percentage of sea that would be taken out of use, nor the timescale for HPMA implementation.

Rebels at Holyrood

The HPMA proposal has provoked anger and fear in coastal communities, and in the second of two debates about the issue in the Scottish Parliament earlier this month three rural SNP MSPs – Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn), Kate Forbes (Skye, Lochaber, and Badenoch), and Alsadair Allan (Western Isles) - rebelled voted against an SNP amendment neutralising a Conservative motion that would have sunk the plan. Ewing has called the initial HPMA consultation document "a notice of execution" for coastal communities.

Tavish Scott, chief executive of salmon industry trade body Salmon Scotland, said the plans appear to be driven by political agendas rather than science, and that there is currently no evidence that the proposed HPMAs will work.

The HPMA proposal has been compared to the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries, and Scottish folk stars Skipinnish have released a song called The Clearances Again in protest against HPMAs.