The Scottish Government has recently launched two new consultation papers as part of its Islands Connectivity Plan. These are called Strategic Approach and Vessels and Ports Plan. More on these later.

This consultation exercise has been rather overshadowed by events on the ground at the Ferguson Yard in Port Glasgow. David Tydeman, the chief executive, was chucked over the side by his board. He has been followed this week by Robbie Drummond, the chief executive of CalMac, the ferry operator.

The departure of Mr Tydeman is rather a shame because he was by all accounts an effective manager. Not only that but he spoke the truth and spoke it plainly. He had, however, one big fault: he wasn’t lucky.

He had been trying to fix inherited problems which were not of his making and ran out of road, reporting one too many delays back to his masters in Holyrood.

The Scottish Minister in charge of the yard, the lacklustre SNP high-flyer Mairi McAllan, would have us believe she had nothing to do with the sacking, that it was all the Ferguson board’s doing.

The Herald: Robbie Drummond, the chief executive of CalMac, was sacked this weekRobbie Drummond, the chief executive of CalMac, was sacked this week (Image: free)

Anybody who knows the relationship between a company which has run out of money such as Ferguson and its paymaster, in this case the Scottish Government, knows the chief executive only gets removed when the provider of cash wants them gone. Make no mistake, Mr Tydeman was effectively fired by Mairi McAllan. The fingerprints of the Scottish Government are everywhere.

What Mairi McAllan should have done is acknowledge the role of the Scottish Government in presiding over the daft design of the ships being built, the controversial award of the build contract to Fergusons, the botched nationalisation, endless delay and simply insane level of cost overrun and resign herself. Sadly, this is not the way things are done, instead Mr Tydeman gets this jotters and Ms McAllan skips away saying, as they always do, “it wasnae me”.

What this latest twist in the long-running fiasco must not obscure is the consultation papers on Strategy and Vessels & Ports.

When you read these documents you feel your head nodding at some of the common sense, it almost seems like a revelation. There is a lot of guff about going green but there are calls for broadly two classes of ship, the larger Islay Class (for Islay read “Turkish”) for the longer, more weather challenged journeys and another common design for the shorter routes. Hurrah, decades into the Scottish Government being responsible for ferries somebody wakes up.

The documents go out of their way to talk about consulting stakeholders especially those on the islands. Again, your head nods until you ask, “but why hasn’t that already been done?”

There is the idea to keep a spare ferry on standby in case one of the main fleet is unavailable. The people who wrote the consultation paper clearly all have degrees in rocket science, this is brilliant stuff.


Fergusons was a shambles - yet they shoot the messenger

CalMac boss Robbie Drummond sacrificed by political masters

There are also some frightening statistics. Two out of every three pounds the ferry service gets comes from taxpayers not users. Operating costs have risen by 65 per cent in the last decade and the deficit by 100 per cent.

The papers are suffused with an earnest desire for us to have a “safe and accessible transport system helping deliver a healthier, fairer, more prosperous Scotland”. Hmmm.

Nowhere in either document is there even a hint of the reform which the system needs. It is like reading a Soviet five-year plan, a worthy but guaranteed failure.

What the Scottish Government should actually consult the public on is how to achieve three things.

First, allow island communities to decide for themselves what they want.

Second, enable those communities to put their plans into action.

Third, reduce the financial burden on taxpayers.

The first of these could be achieved by setting out a framework as to how islands can form their own locally controlled ferry company.

The second requires a willingness to help the island ferry companies achieve what locals have decided they want. The Scottish Government should act as an enabler not a dictator, even if a local ferry company ultimately fails it is no worse than where we are now.


Ferries report tells us so much about how mediocre Scotland is run

Implicit within this position is that there must be no presumption in favour of CalMac or its ships or their crewing arrangements. If, for example, an island wanted Western Ferries to provide their service using new ships and new local crews the Scottish Government should not just allow that to happen but help to make it happen.

The third objective of reduced taxpayer subsidy means we need to know not just how much the whole ferry network costs but how much each individual route costs. The local ferry companies must then progressively make savings on those costs. I bet they could. Five per cent each year for each of the first five years would be a perfectly reasonable target which would release tens of millions of pounds for things like bridges and roads.

It is time for radical thinking and allowing island communities to decide their own destinies. That is what the Scottish Government should really be consulting on.