THERE’S a political calculation that a problem which directly affects only a small minority will sooner (probably) or later become of no interest to the rest, so play the long game and it will pass.

Okay, it might take hours for an ambulance to turn up but not everybody, the cynical adviser calculates, is waiting for an ambulance. The drugs death toll is the worst in Europe by a country mile, but 1300 victims? A number like that would hardly dent a decent majority.

The power of that cynicism, if not its morality, should not be under-estimated. Indeed, it is the most likely explanation of why Ms Sturgeon and her colleagues get away with so much in the competence or caring stakes.

The affairs of Caledonian MacBrayne certainly put that theory to the test. It’s months since Peter Wishart MP tweeted to complain about the extensive coverage. “Ferries, ferries, ferries”, he wailed on the grounds nobody spoke to him about them in Perthshire. Sadly, he might be right. Those of us who care about “ferries, ferries, ferries” and the places they serve can only hope the tedium factor is delayed long enough to force a solution. Meanwhile, the political calculation is: “We can sail through this. It’s only the islands”.

Alone, the islands have no political clout and while they could be much, much better represented, the reality is that the ferry crisis poses no political threat to the SNP – unless it becomes a national issue, and a metaphor for how Scotland is run, rather than a local one.

Last week, people who are fighting this battle, day in, day out, were in utter despair. Yet again, a key ferry was out of service at peak tourist season. Chaos ensued as hundreds were stranded. Ferries were shuttled around the network in an effort to patch up a skeleton service, causing knock-on cancellations and delays.

In this case, the vessel involved was the 22-year-old Hebrides, which should have been replaced years ago by one of the hulks lying at Port Glasgow. Recently, the 33-year-old Lord of the Isles was out for a week at an estimated cost to the Uist economy of £650,000. The most recent episode will have cost fragile businesses at least that.

Most alarmingly, there is absolutely no end in sight. Indeed, the expectation of deteriorating services due to the age of the fleet has been specifically warned against by CalMac themselves. Its managing director, Robbie Drummond, said: “Our challenge is that the average age of our fleet has gone from 12 years in 2006, with CalMac successfully building a new vessel every single year, to between 25 and 30 years today. That is bringing us enormous challenges but ultimately the funding comes from the Scottish Government”.

There is much the Scottish Government should be indicted for in this whole saga but the urgent focus has to be on short-term solutions. Yet again, the level of negligence in Edinburgh can only be attributed to cynicism and contempt for something that is happening “up there”.

I spoke last week to Uisdean Robertson, who chairs the Western Isles council’s transport committee. “I spent yesterday and today listening to people on the phone who are absolutely desperate”, he said. “I don’t know where else we can go with any of this. We are not being listened to”.

This was not just about the latest failure. Earlier in the week, he met the latest transport minister, Jenny Gilruth, about another impending debacle – closure of Uig pier on Skye for at least six months while a linkspan is installed to accommodate the ferry that hasn’t yet been built.

Space does not permit me to list options to ameliorate the impact of this on island economies during that period. All have been rejected on grounds of cost. Most importantly, the Scottish Government adamantly refuses to charter an additional vessel to improve fleet resilience.

Of course, it would help if the Ferguson scandal had never happened and the delivery of two ferries was not five years late and counting. But even that will not resolve the longer-term problem without a sustained commitment to compensate for the past decade.

I apologise if I am losing readers in Perth with too much detail. So take my word for it. The core of the islands’ economy is being hollowed out by a continuing refusal to acknowledge the scale of the problem and then do something serious about it. And I ask the question: “Is that a problem for Scotland – or for the islands alone”?

When Holyrood returns, its Public Audit Committee will resume its inquiry following the Auditor General’s damning report into the Ferguson order. A lot of interesting stuff has emerged but there is one element which provides that metaphor on how Scotland is run.

The nominal client for the ferries is CMAL, the Scottish Government’s procurement quango. On two occasions, in face of exceptionally strong advice, Nicola Sturgeon’s office insisted on photo opportunities which CMAL – the client – deemed wholly inappropriate. The first was to announce Ferguson’s as preferred bidder.

Giving Ferguson’s the order was itself against CMAL’s advice while the photo opportunity – when intensive contractual negotiations were ongoing – weakened their position by appearing to present a fait accompli. All for the sake of Ms Sturgeon’s photo opportunity.

If a humble council leader tried to behave this way – barging into an ongoing commercial negotiation for political advantage – he or she would be taken aside by an official and warned about legal risks, including surcharging. When the civil service is complicit, that doesn’t happen.

On the second occasion, CMAL – the nominal client, remember – pleaded that the Glen Sannox was not ready to go in the water when Team Sturgeon insisted on a launch and photo opportunity with the infamous painted-on windows. How many subsequent costs resulted from that premature launch?

One certainty is that you will not find Ms Sturgeon among the stranded cars or freight lorries on any Hebridean pier this summer. Does Scotland care enough to be angry – or are islands as peripheral to its thoughts as to its geography?