A FORMER justice secretary has launched a campaign for a new fund to ensure Scotland has direct ferry links to Europe.

Kenny MacAskill, now an Alba MP took his concerns to Westminster where he called on the Scottish Government to establish a ferry route development fund.

The deputy leader of the Alba Party says Brexit and the lorry driver shortage have boosted the case for ferries.

And says Scotland has to develop a maritime strategy to create direct links to its European markets and encourage tourist travel in both directions.

He said it was "absurd" that former First Minister Lord Jack McConnell could bring in an airline route development fund but that the present incumbent Nicola Sturgeon "will not do likewise for ferries".

He has made his call in a Westminster Hall debate saying: "There's one major aspect of connectivity where Scotland’s been left high and dry. That’s in direct ferry links to mainland Europe. It’s not just a longstanding issue but a longstanding omission. It was a major gap even before coronavirus and Brexit impacted. They have simply compounded the existing need.

A ferry service between Rosyth and Zeebrugge was launched in 2002 but it was halted 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 as "dozens if not hundreds of lorries struggling down 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 per week from Cork, Dublin and Rosslare and heading to Roscoff, Bilbao and Cherbourg.

HeraldScotland: Alba Party members Kenny Macaskill flanked by Councillors Chris and Jim McEleny at Bute House friday to deliver model Cal Mac ferries to help save the fleet. STY..Pic Gordon Terris Herald & Times..24/9/21.

But Mr MacAskill (above centre)  said that while Irish maritime links are growing almost exponentially, Scotland remains "tied up in port with increasing paperwork" as a result of Brexit-imposed customs red tape.

"Why are we devoid of action in Scotland? Transport is largely devolved and therefore much of the failure to date and indeed action that needs to be taken rests with the Scottish Government. They have failed to show any sign of urgency let alone shown any sign of ambition for the country," he said.

"A four nations approach may have merit in aspects of health policy. But with ferries it’s an approach that leaves Scotland isolated, sucking everything into the ports in England and leaving Scotland marooned."

He pointed out Scotland already routinely funds lifeline ferry services with consider financial support given to backing both state-owned ferry operator CalMac and Northlink ferries. CalMac get upwards of £120 million per annum with more provided for boats and piers. Meanwhile Orkney and Shetland services receive approximately £45m per year in support.

"It’s essential as they are lifeline services and neither roads nor railways can be provided. It’s a sensible provision of public funds," said the MP.

“Why then should it be 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 should a government argue that an island nation which requires to trade with Europe and encourage European visitors, should not support maritime services?

"Scotland is losing out in competitiveness and convenience to Ireland and other nations. Scottish trade and tourism are suffering and promises from COP26 ring hollow. Demands on the public purse are many and resource is limited, especially post Covid.

"What does it say when the administration of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale was more radical in providing air routes for Scotland, than Nicola Sturgeon's is with maritime links?

“Scotland deserves better. It requires connectivity in all forms of transport as in telecoms. It needs ferry services to Europe."

He added: Scottish Government must establish a Ferry Service Route Development Fund to launch and sustain them. Scotland deserves no less”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are supportive of new direct ferry services linking Scotland to Europe, but they need to be delivered on a commercial basis.

“Exporting delays are down to issues that we have warned about for many years, and the consequences of the Brexit deal are now starting to be felt across the country.”

Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart said: "The UK government fully recognise that quality transport links are essential to economic growth, job creation, social cohesion, and many other areas and we are committed to progress our work on increasing connectivity throughout the entire UK and beyond."