Ferry Services

– in the Scottish Parliament on 20 April 2023.

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Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

2. On Tuesday, Humza Yousaf tried to convince the country that he represented a fresh start. Sixteen years of command and control, financial mismanagement and a complete lack of transparency—that is not only how the Scottish National Party governs its party; it is how it governs the country.

Just one example is the on-going ferry crisis—£200 million over budget, with no ferries in sight. Last week, I was in the Western Isles, and I heard directly from people about the consequences of that failure—cancelled ferries, meaning missed cancer appointments, lack of supplies coming in, produce not getting out and businesses going to the wall.

In 2017, the then SNP Minister for Transport and the Islands said that resolving the Western Isles ferry crisis was a priority. Six years on, people are still waiting, and it has got worse. Who was that incompetent transport minister and where are they now?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I recognise the challenges that those who rely on our ferry services—our island communities—have suffered in the past few weeks, particularly over the Easter tourism season.

However, let me speak clearly to those island communities. We not only understand their frustrations but are taking action to ensure that we bolster the ferry network services. That is why this Government has bought and deployed an additional vessel in the MV Loch Frisa. That is why we chartered the MV Arrow to provide additional resilience and capacity. That is why we commissioned two new vessels for Islay. That is why we commissioned two new vessels for the Little Minch routes. That is why we progressed key investments in ports and harbours. That is why we confirmed additional revenue funding for the operation of local authority ferry services. That is also why we are looking forward to the MV Alfred and why we provided additional funding to Caledonian MacBrayne for it, to provide additional resilience, not just for the next few weeks but for the next nine months.

It is, of course, a very serious matter that Anas Sarwar has raised, but we are a Government that is taking action to ensure that we have resilience on our ferries network.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

That was a great example of what has become typical of this leadership in the past three weeks: comical Ali, saying everything is fine, while the house burns down behind us.

Island communities will not believe those excuses from the First Minister. He and this Government are totally out of touch. Six years ago, Humza Yousaf, as Minister for Transport and the Islands, made a promise to fix this, but the Scottish National Party Government has failed to get a grip, and its financial mismanagement has cost us hundreds of millions of pounds.

It has cost people in the islands dearly, too. The impact on the local economy has been devastating. One report has estimated that the loss of the Lochboisdale to Mallaig ferry alone cost nearly £50,000 a day. That is almost double the average annual salary on the islands. As one business put it,

“No ferry means no income, no jobs, no people”.

Businesses in Uist have asked the Scottish Government to compensate them for their losses. Last year, Transport Scotland took millions of pounds in fines from CalMac because of the lack of services. Will the First Minister commit to compensating islanders, and at the very least pass on the fines that the Government has collected from CalMac to the people who have been affected by the crisis?

The First Minister:

I will look at any proposals that are suggested by anybody across the chamber, including the one that Anas Sarwar just mentioned.

I completely accept, and am unequivocal in saying, that the Government understands and regrets any delays and disruption that have impacted our island communities. What does not help island communities are easy soundbites from Anas Sarwar—[


.]—that are not an attempt to provide any solutions but silly personal attacks around comical Ali. That is not going to help those in our island communities one single bit.

What will help our island communities is delivering—[



The First Minister:

—six new major vessels to serve Scotland’s ferry network by 2026. That is a priority for this Government.

Let us look at the facts. Of course there has been disruption—I do not deny that at all—but in 2022, there were 170,000 scheduled sailings across the Clyde and Hebrides ferry services network, and around 6.6 per cent of them were cancelled. Over half of those cancellations were due to weather-related issues. Around 1.1 per cent of the total scheduled sailings were cancelled due to technical issues. The vast majority of scheduled sailings take place when they are meant to. We should and will bolster the ferry service network’s resilience, and I look forward to the charter of the MV Alfred in the coming days.

I will say to Anas Sarwar that I will end where I started. Any sensible suggestions from the Opposition, and from across the chamber, will be listened to by the Government.

Photo of Anas Sarwar Anas Sarwar Labour

The harsh reality is that island communities just do not believe him. Island communities feel completely let down, and they have heard these excuses for years. They cannot wait for more years of Government failure. This is impacting the lives of islanders right now. Businesses are failing right now. Millions of pounds are being lost right now. Exports are stuck on the islands right now. People need support right now, and that is why they need that compensation scheme.

This is no fresh start. Humza Yousaf has served in Government for over a decade. He was a failed transport minister, with hundreds of millions of pounds wasted on ferries that never sailed. He was a failed justice secretary, with millions of pounds wasted on botched prosecutions and court delays. He was a failed health secretary, with over £300 million wasted on delayed discharges, while people waited to get life-saving treatment. Now, just three weeks in, he is a failed First Minister, bogged down in scandal, unable to lead and completely out of touch with the priorities of the people of Scotland.

Therefore, I ask the acting SNP treasurer: why should Scots keep paying the price for SNP failure?

The First Minister:

I say once again to Anas Sarwar that we are acting now. That is why the MV Alfred—an additional vessel for which we have helped to fund CalMac—is coming on board in the next few days. That is tangible action that will make a difference to our ferry networks, right here and right now. He says that the people of Scotland do not trust us and that he was in the Western Isles. I remind him that the Western Isles has an SNP MP and an SNP MSP, so the people of the Western Isles absolutely do trust us. [



The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Members! We need to hear the First Minister respond.

The First Minister:

He says that we have not been getting on with the job. Well, I am afraid that people in Scotland disagree with him. I stood here on Tuesday and announced and articulated our policy prospectus, and I am delighted that it got support from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and that some of the policies that I announced got support from Dr Liz Cameron, the chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce. There was support from Transform Scotland in relation to the pilot for peak rail fares being abolished, and support from the Scotch Whisky Association, the Chartered Institute of Housing Scotland, the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership, Crisis Scotland, Reform Scotland, the Poverty Alliance, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and Parkinson’s UK.

This is a time for new leadership, of course, which I am delighted to bring to this Government, and time for a fresh start. The people of Scotland recognise that; maybe it is time for Scottish Labour to recognise it, too.