A new fly-on-the-wall documentary starts this Sunday on BBC Scotland. Island Crossings gets up close and personal with ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne and its passengers as another busy year of sailings begins. Thank heavens the cameras were not filming at Ardrossan Harbour a few weeks ago.

It was there one Saturday that a dreadful day unfolded. I’m reluctant to write of it for fear of the trauma returning, but here goes. Readers, I give you “My ferry hell: what it’s really like to be caught in CalMac’s jaws of doom.”

We had turned up en masse, en famille, for the annual trip to Arran. It has become a fixture on the calendar as firm as Christmas. For the past few years, however, it has not been easy to get there and back without drama.

You know why, but for the benefit of any foreign visitors, CalMac’s ferries are knackered. Average age 24. The Scottish Government ordered new ones but they are now years late and massively, chronically, embarrassingly over budget.

As a result, recent trips to Arran have involved cancellations and delays. But we always got there in the end. Not this day.

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We were booked on the 09.45 to Brodick. In the queue early, small people and dog excited, can’t wait to get there and start the holiday. The sailing time came and went. Still parked in the queue. The word went from car to car: it’s too windy to sail. In Scotland? In July? In a great hunk of steel built to withstand the worst of the weather?

A few unfortunate members of staff were sent out to spread the word. They were quickly doughnutted by anxious passengers wondering what to do. Some were told to wait, there might be space on the next ferry. Or cancel and rebook for later in the day. No, they couldn’t say when or if there would be sailings. Welcome to Scotland.

As often happens when travelling on public transport I had an out-of-body experience. It’s the only way to avoid the screaming abdabs. There I was, flying above the harbour, Alison Livingston Seagull. I could see narked passengers, some of them from London judging by the crease in their shorts, and foreign number plates. People giving up and driving off. Chaos. Last bird out of Saigon/first day of the Next sale territory.

Worst of all were the weans. How do you explain to a tearful three-year-old the ocean-going omnishambles that is Scotland’s ferry crisis?

I could have had a go. I could have expanded on commissioning mistakes and contractual pitfalls, but unless something similar had happened in Bluey’s world lately I doubt she would relate. And yes, I could have told her that worse things happen at sea, that we should think ourselves lucky to have such first world problems.

Then I thought, “Chuff that. All we want to do is travel 14 miles across the Firth of Clyde and enjoy some precious time together. Half a century ago humankind landed on the moon. In Scotland 2023 we struggle to get to Dunoon. What is wrong with us?”

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I have known SNP supporters shake their heads in bewilderment, wondering why ferries, ruddy ferries, should be the cause of so much Scottish Government earache. But there has always been more to this crisis than first appearances suggest.

It is as if we suspect, in our bones, that this local issue speaks to a wider, national malaise. That the ferries are a manifestation of deeper problems. By this point I would have definitely lost the three-year-old’s attention, but bear with me.

Yes, the ferries are an ageing fleet. This accounts for the 67% rise in maintenance costs over five years. Yet it’s not the whole picture. More sailings mean more maintenance, and more sailings are due to the growing number of people who want to visit the islands, or live and work there. The Ardrossan-Brodick crossing is the busiest on CalMac’s network, carrying 800,000 passengers a year.

This, in short, is a success story. One we have managed to turn into a tale of woe.

I say “we” but the buck stops with the Scottish Government. Realising which way the wind was blowing, ministers should have camped out at the shipyards till the new vessels were completed. Instead, like everything else, the ferries had to take their place behind independence in the queue for attention.

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Here’s the thing, though. Instead of being a secondary matter, the delivery of the ferries on time and within budget, as part of the efficient running of public services as a whole, should have been the Government’s primary focus.

And it would have helped the independence cause. If a government can achieve the day-to-day stuff, maybe it is worth hearing out when it comes to pensions, currency, and that long list of other known unknowns.

But even this Scottish Government cannot take all the blame for a bad Saturday in Ardrossan. How did we, a country that gave so much to the world, come to limit our horizons so much? If we don’t fix what ails us, what kind of Scotland are we leaving for future generations?

Long story short: we gave up on the Saturday, went home and came back the next day. Everyone made it over eventually, despite further cancellations, this time due to staff not turning up. Like many others they are scunnered with the service, only they get the brunt of the complaints. I was ashamed to see posters asking passengers to please remember that staff, too, just want to get home safely.

That Saturday did it for me. No more Arran. Don’t need the stress. Plenty of places to go on the mainland.

Then Arran worked its magic. In defiance of all forecasts the sun came out and stayed. Great times were had by all at the swingparks and on the beach. Pizza from The Parlour, a toastie from Little Rock Cafe, anything from Wooleys the baker. Another round of crazy golf? You’d be mad not to.

Believe the hype: Arran is Scotland in miniature. Paradise on the doorstep. But first you need to get there, and that’s a matter of cold hard practicality, of making the basics work.

Of course we’ll be back next year. Arran has been reprieved by popular demand, and with everything crossed that can be crossed we will once more travel in hope. The dream shall never die, right enough.