A FORMER Justice Secretary has launched a campaign for a new fund to ensure Scotland has direct sea links to Europe.
Kenny MacAskill, now MP for Alba, raised his concerns at Westminster, where he called on the Scottish government to create a ferry line development fund.
Deputy Party Leader Alba said Brexit and the shortage of truck drivers had strengthened the case for ferries.
And says Scotland needs to develop a maritime strategy to create direct links to its European markets and encourage two-way tourist travel.
He said it was “absurd” that former Prime Minister Lord Jack McConnell could create an air route development fund, but that current incumbent Nicola Sturgeon “did not do the same for ferries”.
He made his appeal during a debate in Westminster Hall saying: ‘There is a major aspect of connectivity where Scotland has stayed dry. These are direct ferry connections to mainland Europe. This is not just a long-standing problem, but a long-standing omission. It was a major gap even before the impact of the coronavirus and Brexit. They simply compounded the existing need.
A ferry service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge was started in 2002, but it was discontinued for passengers in 2010 and for freight in 2018.
And the MP says that investing in maritime links has an environmental benefit as well as a much needed economic benefit, because “dozens, if not hundreds of trucks are driving on congested roads”.
In Ireland, three main operators now offer passenger ferry services. Brittany Ferries, Irish Ferries and Stena Line offer services, some sailing up to five times a week from Cork, Dublin and Rosslare and heading to Roscoff, Bilbao and Cherbourg.
But Mr MacAskill (center above) said while Ireland’s sea links are growing almost exponentially, Scotland remains ‘tied up in port with increasing red tape’ due to customs formalities imposed by Brexit.
“Why are we inactive in Scotland? Transport is largely decentralized and as a result much of the failure to date and the steps that need to be taken lie with the Scottish Government. They showed no sign of urgency let alone any sign. ambition for the country, “he said.
“A four-nation approach may have merit in some aspects of health policy. But with ferries it’s an approach that leaves Scotland isolated, sucking everything out of England’s ports and leaving Scotland stranded. . ”
He pointed out that Scotland already regularly funds rescue ferry services and is considering financial support to support both state ferry operator CalMac and Northlink ferries. CalMac gets over £ 120million a year and more for boats and piers. Meanwhile, Orkney and Shetland services receive around £ 45million per year.
“This is essential because these are vital services and neither roads nor railways can be provided. It is a reasonable provision of public funds,” said the MP.
“Why then should it be any different for Scotland as a whole?” Why is it legitimate and sensible to support internal maritime links but refuse to do so for external ones? Why would a government argue that an island nation that needs to trade with Europe and encourage European visitors, should not support maritime services?
“Scotland is losing competitiveness and convenience compared to Ireland and other countries. Scottish trade and tourism are suffering and the promises of COP26 are ringing hollow. The demands on public money and resources are plentiful. are limited, especially after Covid.
“What do we say when Lord McConnell’s administration of Glenscorrodale was more radical in providing air routes for Scotland than that of Nicola Sturgeon for sea links?
“Scotland deserves better. It requires connectivity in all forms of transport such as telecommunications. She needs ferry services to Europe. ”
He added: The Scottish Government must establish a Ferry Service Routes Development Fund to launch and support them. Scotland deserves no less.
A Scottish government spokesperson said: ‘We support the new direct ferry services from Scotland to Europe, but they are to be delivered on a commercial basis.
“The export delays are due to issues we have warned about for many years, and the consequences of the Brexit deal are now starting to be felt across the country.”
Scottish Office Minister Iain Stewart said: “The UK Government fully recognizes that quality transport links are essential for economic growth, job creation, social cohesion and many other areas and we are committed to advancing our work on increasing connectivity across the UK and beyond. . ”