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Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th November 2019.

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Photo of Jamie Halcro Johnston Jamie Halcro Johnston Conservative

The cabinet secretary will have a chance to respond later.

The delay was blamed on issues around compliance with EU state aid rules. That case would have been more reasonable if ministers had engaged with the ferry operators at an earlier stage. Instead, we got a legal dispute. The routes have recently been retendered, which was an opportunity to set the future direction of the service. Instead, we got a vague threat of nationalisation, which local people do not want. That was followed by a tendering process in which many of the issues that islanders are most concerned about—cost and availability of cabins, service reliability, freight capacity and the availability of suitable replacements when boats are on refit—have not been addressed.

If it seems as though the Scottish Government is making it up as it goes along, that is probably because it is. As Liam Kerr highlighted, we lack a strategic view on the future of our ferries and on how we connect our island communities, not just for now but for the years ahead. Without that, the Scottish Government’s warm words around sustainability of island communities become meaningless.

Scotland’s ferries provide lifeline links with our islands and other remote communities. They keep some of those communities sustainable. They make island life in the 21st century possible, but they have been neglected by an SNP Administration that does not have a comprehensive plan. It is better at making promises to the islands than it is at delivering them.