FERGUS Ewing ripped up a copy of the Scottish Government’s Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) consultation during a member’s debate in Holyrood on Tuesday. 

The SNP MSP said he had never seen such a backlash to a policy in almost half a century, warning it would “haunt” the Government.

The former SNP rural affairs minister is quickly becoming a regular thorn in the side of his own party on a number of policies. He called for the consultation to be withdrawn and the minister responsible to apologise.

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Concerns have been raised in recent weeks over the impact highly protected marine areas (HPMAs) could have on rural areas.

In a theatrical outburst in the Holyrood chamber during a debate on the issue, brought by Lib Dem MSP Beatrice Wishart, Ewing suggested the idea should be placed in the “burgeoning policy recycling unit” along with the deposit return scheme and consultation on alcohol advertising.

He added that it could also be set on fire, before finally tearing the document up.

Brandishing the consultation document, Ewing said: “The only mention of fishermen says that what they do is destructive.

“What an incredible act of provocation that is.”

He added: “This will haunt the Scottish Government, this issue, this will not go away. This is not a consultation document, it’s a notice of execution.”

As a result, the “anger is palpable”, he added.

Ewing added that he feared fishing communities were “losing confidence in the party I’ve served for nearly 50 years”.

Former finance secretary and SNP leadership contender Kate Forbes used her first speech in Holyrood from the backbenches since 2018 to deliver a “stark” warning.

“The rarest species in our coastal areas and our islands will soon become people if these proposals go ahead as planned,” she said.

Forbes, who also raised concerns about the knock-on impact a demise of fishing could have on the culture and heritage of island communities, added: “My position in the leadership contest was that I would scrap HPMAs completely if elected – I didn’t win.

“And my job now is to represent my constituents and to navigate a way forward.”

Forbes credited Net Zero Secretary Mairi McAllan for her engagement with rural communities, but said her, and First Minister Humza Yousaf’s, assertion that HPMAs would not be “imposed” in communities where they were not wanted may result in such areas being hard to establish, because she has not heard from anyone who is in favour.

She used the final minute of her speech to quote from a protest song about HPMAs from the band Skipinnish, which likened the proposals to the Highland clearances.

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Fellow SNP MSPs Alasdair Allan and Karen Adam also voiced their concerns about the plans during the debate.

Closing the debate, McAllan said the proposals were at an early stage, assuring MSPs she will gather “as much information as I possibly can on the views of how this should be taken forward”.

She added: “We all recognise the importance of Scotland’s coastal and island communities and the industries that support them. We recognise the importance, the indispensable value of working with them as we develop the policy.

“But at the same time we must all recognise the threat that our environment is under.”

The debate came at the same time as organisations representing the fishing industry said they were “united in being strongly opposed” to the plans.

“HPMAs have united the fishing sector, salmon farmers and a whole host of other businesses in opposition to the proposals which would ban any sort of human activity,” a joint statement from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, Seafood Scotland, Salmon Scotland, the Scottish Association of Fish Producers Organisation and the Community Fisheries Inshore Alliance said.

“Inside and outside Parliament there is widespread cross-party and community opposition to proposed HPMAs.

“This echoes the sector’s fears that designating at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as HPMAs will have far-reaching consequences for Scotland’s coastal communities and economies.”

The group called on the Scottish Government to either drop or rethink the proposals, engaging with the sector.