Scottish Liberal Democrat and Shetland MSP, Beatrice Wishart, has used her party’s opposition motion on the SNP’s CMAL ferry fiasco to highlight the issues facing the Northern Isles ferry routes. Wishart stressed that insufficient freight capacity will inhibit Shetland’s economic growth.
Scottish Liberal Democrats brought the debate to the chamber after CMAL ferries projected costs of at least £252m over eight years, without any new ferry so far in service. Party representatives highlighted the disruption to personal lives on the West Coast, cost to businesses and political fallout beleaguering the SNP-Green coalition.
Wishart pointed to a study published earlier this year by the Stewart Building Transport Group, which represents the interests of the seafood sector and its hauliers, and looked at the current and short-term future position for freight capacity on the northern isles’ ferry service. The study’s findings showed that on Lerwick-Aberdeen route six in 10 northbound and four in 10 southbound sailings are running at 90 per cent capacity, with one in ten over the allotted capacity.
Wishart has raised ferry freight capacity in the Parliament on numerous occasions including questioning the First Minister. During the summer of 2021 Ms Wishart and Orkney MSP, Liam McArthur, wrote to the Transport Minister highlighting concerns about autumn capacity on the Northern Isles routes following CalMac’s charter of M/V Arrow.
During the debate Ms Wishart highlighted:
“The West Coast ferry service scenario must be learnt from. New vessels in Northern waters must be appropriate and built or procured in an open process.
“Islanders do not ask for special treatment but if communities are supported and livelihoods protected, the greater their contribution to Scotland.
“So my overall message is clear. Island communities across Scotland need reliable and resilient ferry connections, and Shetland needs greater ferry freight capacity now.”
After the debate Ms Wishart said:
“The West Coast case is intolerable and protracted, people’s lives have been severely disrupted. We know from a Shetland perspective how travel disruption impacts on business and hospital appointments, and life events, so can empathise with those affected in other islands.
“Shetland’s Mainland ferry route faces its own challenges.
“There’s no room for growth on the Lerwick-Aberdeen route, or for handling any potential disruptions or peak periods, so without additional freight capacity the local economy will suffer.
“Freight capacity must be addressed to truly release the potential Shetland has to offer.”