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September 18th 2023

Most politicos leave the stage without uttering a line that sticks.

Not so the late Winnie Ewing. “Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on” was her memorable declaration after a famous by-election that took her from Hamilton to Westminster.

But does Scotland want to get on?

This week, the Scottish Parliament debated food and drink in a government-sponsored debate.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon told Holyrood that the sector employs 129,000 people, which is second only to the energy industry.

Scotland’s food and drink exports are a success story for a country which needs to grow economically, develop more high-skilled well-paid jobs, and create more wealth.

A growing business sector with confidence to invest will - through taxation - put much needed new resources into government coffers and therefore their delivery of public services.

Even a cursory glance at Scotland’s public sector would suggest that is badly needed.

And here is the big ethical case for growing our food and drink industry: the world’s population will double by 2050, notably in Africa where a greater proportion of people go hungry than any other continent around the world.

The blue economy - the sea - is the sustainable way to produce the protein that is needed now, not just by 2050.

Consumers also increasingly pay attention to the carbon footprint of what they eat and seafood scores well on that metric.

Scotland’s salmon sector is committed to the UN’s target of being net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. We have lots to do, but with a healthy product wanted by consumers in 50 countries around the world, we need to produce more fish, not less.

People like Rosie Curtis make our sector tick. She manages a fish farm on a beautiful part of the west coast, caring for her fish with the same attention to detail as with her cows and ewes on the family croft.

On days when the prevailing weather is rumbling in from the Atlantic, it is a wild place.

Farmers like Rosie have the ability and potential to help us grow our sector and do it sustainably.

But the government and the myriad of public sector agencies and bodies need to be on that journey too.

Holyrood’s recently published aquaculture vision is a framework for the future. But it needs to be kicked forward, not gather dust on e-shelves.

Salmon’s sustainable growth is still held back by endless bureaucratic infighting and constant delays in decision-making. We urge those with the power to break these logjams to be brave and do exactly that.

If Winnie Ewing’s famous epitaph is to be relevant today, Scotland’s food and drink sector and the salmon industry need support and encouragement to grow, build and prosper.

Feeding the world is the right thing to do.

Fifty years ago, a famous politician asked her country to grasp Scotland’s potential; today we ask Holyrood to seize the opportunity that Scotland’s salmon sector offers.

This op-ed, written by Salmon Scotland Chief Executive, Tavish Scott, first appeared in the Scottish Herald on September 15th 2023.