It is politically prudent to assume that bad ideas do not go away, particularly when they originate in civil service minds of a certain disposition. They just fester and await their opportunity.

Politicians come and go while officials go on for ever. The day will come, they reason, when a gullible travels proudly into the ministerial office and accepts whatever appears in front of them. Another little victory chalked up. “Good decision, Minister”.

This process has occurred to me recently while reading about the Ardrossan linkspan debacle which is on a par with the ferries. When referring to Transport Scotland, one searches in vain for a new word in the lexicon. Scandal, farce, debacle. Any of them will do.

Let’s look at the fundamental facts. The Glen Sannox, which took to the water this week amidst crossed fingers and anxious prayers, should have been operating on the Ardrossan-Brodick route six years ago. The ability to do so was dependent on a suitable linkspan being installed at the north Ayrshire port.

There is still no linkspan and the obvious question arises. If the future of Ardrossan as mainland port for Arran was the serious intention, why was this work not done at any point in the eight and a half years since the Ferguson order was placed, or even during six years of delayed delivery, in order to be ready for the new vessel?

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Go back to August 2015 and Nicola Sturgeon’s dash to Port Glasgow where she donned a hard-hat and announced the order of two ferries; one of them to serve Arran (later revised to both). From that moment on, it was axiomatic that Ardrossan would need a new linkspan to take the new ferry, then due for delivery in 2018.

So far, so straightforward. Then, in October 2016 and for reasons that have never been adequately explained, the waters were seriously muddied. The port of Troon had just lost its service to Northern Ireland and, with an empty berth, made an audacious bid to take over the Brodick route with an £8 million sweetener to the Scottish Government. As I wrote at the time, this initiative was “solely at the behest of Associated British Ports, which has lost its Irish services and needs a substitute. It is blatantly opportunistic”. And Ardrossan was the intended victim.

Enter Humza Yousaf, who was at that time Transport Minister. Instead of politely showing ABP the door, he ordered a review of whether Ardrossan or Troon should be the mainland port for Arran. This was an unexpected and unnecessary decision which led to instant uproar. It can safely be assumed Mr Yousaf didn’t have a clue what he was signing off; the likely corollary being that the ABP intervention had friends at court among those who advised him.

The Herald: SNP MSP Kenneth GibsonSNP MSP Kenneth Gibson (Image: PA)

In North Ayrshire, a broad political, business and civic campaign arose to protect Ardrossan’s 182 year-old status as the mainland port for Arran. In the House of Commons, no less, six SNP MPs tabled a motion expressing “concern” about the ABP bid and confidence “that the Arran ferry service will continue to be run to and from Ardrossan Harbour”. That seemed a bit odd since the Troon hare had only been set running by Mr Yousaf’s review.

Anyway, the Ardrossan campaign prevailed. That was seven years ago. In the intervening period, the linkspan necessary for the new ferry has remained a mirage. Meanwhile, however, Troon’s allies were not asleep at the wheel and had certainly not taken “no” for an answer. This is where my mantra about bad ideas that don’t go away kicks in - and the bad idea was called Troon.

By 2021, Transport Scotland had done a deal with ABP which involved extensive preparations to “support the operation of Ardrossan services … when they are temporarily diverted to Troon”.

On the Transport Scotland website, the question “When will services move to Troon?” was answered with: “The move to Troon will be triggered by either the introduction of the MV Glen Sannox or the Ardrossan harbour upgrade works”.

In other words, the longer work on the Ardrossan linkspan was delayed, the greater certainty that the vessel would initially sail from Troon. Which is exactly the situation that now exists and nobody in the Scottish Government is prepared to make any commitment it will change - which cannot happen anyway until Ardrossan has its linkspan.

In short, Transport Scotland’s bad idea of 2016 has never gone away. The six-year delay in completing the Glen Sannox has been used to push back the essential upgrading of Ardrossan and to build up Troon as an alternative. One does not need to be a conspiracy theorist to have suspicions about what will come next.

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Why does it matter? At this point, I should declare a historic interest since I represented both Ardrossan and Arran for 18 years and there are residual loyalties. Basically, I don’t like to see communities being deceived. I do not like to see an island’s vital needs treated with contempt and I particularly do not like to see a town like Ardrossan, which suffered more than its fair share of hard knocks, being written off from the safe distance of an Edinburgh ministerial office.

All the issues affecting the Ardrossan-Brodick route flow from a basic failure by the Scottish Government to provide two reliable vessels to operate an hour-long crossing – scarcely rocket science. The Ferguson debacle is bad enough but the incapacity of the 31-year-old Caledonian Isles has made matters much worse. Eight years of delays to the Ardrossan linkspan are unforgivable. Yet nobody takes responsibility or is held to account.

The local SNP MSP, Kenneth Gibson, says he is “confident” that Mr Yousaf will “honour his repeated commitment to Ardrossan”. Well, good luck with that. Maybe Mr Gibson could invite him down to a public meeting in the Civic Centre as soon as he gets back from Qatar, to put the matter beyond doubt. Let’s hope he wouldn’t need a hard hat.

Brian Wilson is a former Labour Party politician. He was MP for Cunninghame North from 1987 until 2005 and served as a Minister of State from 1997 to 2003.