Ferries Subject of Urgent Question in Scottish Parliament

The withdrawal of the CalMac Service  Mallaig, Oban and Lochboisdale in South Uist, from 5 April to 13 May was the subject of a heated exchange between MSPs from Scotland’s political parties and the new Junior Minister for Transport Kevin Stewart.

Wednesday 5th April – Saturday 13th May

Due delays to the annual overhaul programme and knock on affects to vessel deployment, all sailings between Mallaig, Oban and Lochboisdale have been cancelled.


Labour’s Rhoda Grant who represents the Highlands and Islands region said that it means Lochboisdale will have with no mainland connection for six weeks, the Small Isles with a single weekly connection and a mitigation policy which places a cancellation hierarchy on those requiring transport. 

She continued:

“The mitigations put in place mean the small isles are also left with only one ferry a week – again absolutely unacceptable. 

“Disruption is now so common that the Scottish Government have devised a “Disruption Management Traffic Prioritization Framework”, a framework that can cancel bookings and relegates hauliers to the end of the queue, making their businesses and those depending on them unviable. 

“A Government that does not take responsibility for governing, or for its mistakes, is not a Government that can make better choices moving forward. Mr Stewart may not have been transport minister for very long, but whether he likes it or not this is a crisis of his own Government’s creation. One which will not allow him to put his feet on his desk and lollygag his way through his first few days. 

“To try and say that these choices are entirely on Cal Mac is an abhorrent rejection of responsibility. 

“Along with the rest of us Cal Mac has been saying for years that it needs infrastructure and vessels to be able to continue to provide services. Provision of these things is the Government’s responsibility not Cal Mac’s. Now, guess what? They’ve run out of boats, just as Cal Mac warned they would for over five years now, and when asked how he was going to fix the situation Mr Stewart said he’s “urge” Cal Mac to do their jobs?

“How are they supposed to do that if they haven’t been given the boats to do so?

Rhoda Grant standing in front of a ferry

“This is beyond frustration for the communities being run into the ground by the Government. This is a catastrophe that goes beyond politics and I am deeply worried that Mr Stewart has no genuine concern for solving this – only passing the blame.”  – Rhoda Grant MSP

Head and shoulders shot of the Minister of Transport Kevin Stewart
Minister for Transport Kevin Stewart

Minister for Transport Kevin Stewart said that he had met with Transport Scotland about the issue and with CalMac. He added:

“I recognise how important the ferry services are for our island communities—they are lifelines. As the chair of the North East of Scotland Transport Partnership in a previous life, I served on the northern isles lifeline ferry service committee. Therefore, I recognise the impacts that such things have on our island communities. I will do all that I can to ensure that CalMac gets it right for all our island communities, and members can be assured that I will continue to update everyone on how we are going about that.”

Alasdair Allan is the SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, he described being ‘inundated with messages of despair from South Uist.’

He said:

“It is a community that has suffered by far—I repeat, by far—the highest rate of cancellations of any island community over a period of months. For this to happen yet again, just as the Easter holidays are starting, is a devastating blow. Given what I have to call the frankly abysmal state of CalMac services to that particular community at present” And he asked if the Scottish Government would be putting in place either a business resilience fund or other specific measures for Uist.

Kevin Stewart answered that he would ‘ need to consider it further, although our primary focus has to be on restoring services in order to minimise the impacts on business in the first place.’

Ferry provision to Orkney from mainland Scotland will be under considerable strain this summer with the MV Alfred being leased to CalMac: Pentalina Returns to Serve Orkney

The MV Alfred ferry
MV Alfred Image credit: Kenny Armet

And what about Orkney’s inter islands ferry fleet?

With the new appointments to the Scottish Government Orkney Constituency MSP Liam McArthur, LibDem has called for assurances about the future of the internal ferries task force set up by the former Deputy First Minister, John Swinney.

Liam McArthur commented:

Liam McArthur Orkney Constituency MSP, LibDem

“I wish all those appointed as Ministers well as they look to take on the significant challenges our country, economy and public services face.

“I am concerned, however, at the apparent relegation in importance of the transport brief. This has potential knock on implications for the task force set up by the former Deputy First Minister, John Swinney to consider the future of Orkney’s internal ferry service.

“Without Mr Swinney’s direct involvement in the work of the taskforce there is a real risk that it gets side-lined by this SNP/Green government. Given Neil Gray’s promotion to the role of Cabinet Secretary for the Wellbeing Economy, it would be entirely logical for him to take on responsibility for the taskforce as well. Neil clearly understands the needs of islanders, the importance of these lifeline ferry services to island communities and the urgency required in replacing the current, ageing fleet.

“During his time as Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf made all sorts of promises to people in Orkney, including RET on Pentland Firth routes. As First Minister, with an Orcadian at the heart of his Cabinet, Mr Yousaf can have no excuse for not delivering on these promises as well as on the long overdue replacement ferries”

Fiona Grahame

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