THERE is one beneficial outcome from the furore over Highly Protected Marine Areas, the draconian plan which has emerged from the SNP-Green love-in. It is the return of the protest song which has been for too long in Scottish abeyance.

The band Skippinish has produced a powerful, angry song, The Clearances Again, which drives home both the gross injustice of what is being proposed and also a fierce willingness to resist it. Last week, the video reached number five in the UK charts.

A song can be more powerful than words alone in making a political point, whether with large or small “p”. My guess is that SNP politicians in the islands who have kept their heads down until the storm passes will now be in more fear of the song than of anything said at Holyrood.

Normally, I don’t like latter-day clearances metaphors which almost invariably trivialise by comparison the historic cruelty of the real thing. It’s a measure of how the current proposals are viewed in coastal communities that, in this context, the word does not seem excessive.

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In half a century as journalist and politician dealing with west Highland and island affairs, I have never observed such an uprising of spontaneous fury against any measure. There is an instinctive feeling this really is a frontier too far. Beyond the specifics of an extremist policy, it crystallises awareness of how these places are having the life drained out of them by arrogant, remote government.

On Saturday, a monument was dedicated at Lochboisdale to commemorate the 300 islanders who left from South Uist and Barra on board the SS Marloch in 1923, an iconic event in the 20th century history of these islands. It was the start of an emigration wave that took thousands from the Hebrides to Canada and Australia in search of new lives.

A hundred years ago, opponents of emigration maintained that not a single man, woman or child should have to leave if the land was broken up and opportunities created for people to live and work in their homeland. The emigrant ships took with them not only the lifeblood of communities but also their language and culture.

Saturday’s speeches drew direct comparisons with what is threatened through HPMAs. How can this happen a century later? Yet nobody thought it excessive to make that link. The fear of families forced to leave because their means of livelihood are in the process of being obliterated is all too tangible. It’s written down in yellow and green.

The Herald: Fishing boats in StornowayFishing boats in Stornoway (Image: free)

The accompanying backdrop inevitably involves ferries. I appreciate the appetite for reading about broken-down or unbuilt CalMac ferries may have its limits, so I won’t labour the point. But please understand that this has long since passed from inconvenience to crisis (and nowhere more so, as it happens, than in Uist).

Every business and associated job in these islands depends one way or another on communications and these have, to an extraordinary extent, disintegrated. From day to day, there is no certainty about whether ferries will sail or, if they do, between which two points. It is nigh well impossible for businesses to operate in that environment.

The Scottish Government is deeply culpable for refusing to take this crisis seriously when its scale first became apparent, maybe two years ago. Instead of chartering to augment the fleet, their response was to kick the can down the road until the problem would go away. Instead it gets worse and worse. Then throw in the HPMA bombshell for good measure.

At its heart is a fundamental contempt for the idea that those with the strongest vested interest in protecting their own marine environment are the people who depend upon it for their livelihoods. That is why, for decades, the fishing industry in the Western Isles and elsewhere have been calling for management to be devolved to local or regional levels.

Over the past century, these places have seen fishing stocks wiped out by the predations of more powerful fleets from elsewhere; mainly other parts of Scotland where fishing is an entirely different scale of capital intensive business. The result is that the inshore fishing industry is now based almost entirely on shellfish of very high quality.

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It is wholly in its own interests to protect stocks and the hundreds of jobs that go with them by operating in a sustainable manner. Instead of that, the heavy hand of Edinburgh is threatening that the grounds in which they operate will be closed to all forms of fishing and all other economic activity. It is not only madness but grossly disrespectful.

History shows that new environmental designations invariably follow the pattern of where previous ones already exist. So while the “at least ten per cent of Scottish inshore waters” has not yet been defined by lines on the map, nobody is in any doubt about where they will end up.

As the Scottish Government consultation paper says, the approach taken arises “through the Bute House Agreement” between SNP and Greens which, among much else coming down the tracks, committed to “a world-leading suite of Highly Protected Marine Areas covering at least ten per cent of our seas”.

Ah, “world-leading” again.

That is an arbitrary figure which, of itself, requires scientific justification before site identification even arises. But if someone in Edinburgh is sitting with an “at least ten per cent” target, there is not the slightest doubt where his or her pen will busy itself first – ie on waters which currently sustain “world-leading” shellfish businesses.

The whole approach is grossly misconceived by politicians and quangos who regard Scotland’s periphery as colonial outposts which need to managed from the centre. The idea of empowering communities and listening to the people who will be affected, before embarking on grandly-named “Agreements” never seems to occur.

This time, the motley crew who run Scotland are not only up against a lot of angry, fearful people. They’re also fighting the power of a song and I hope it’s the first of many.