The first time apprentice Beth Atkinson tried to break the bottle of whisky against the hull, it failed to smash which is considered a very bad omen among the superstition-prone people who work at sea. But then the Glen Rosa slid into the water at Port Glasgow and it was hard not to feel inspired and a bit hopeful. Ship meets sea; man-made meets God-made; beautiful.

So why am I so torn? Some of the people who turned up to watch the launch of the ferry spoke of their pride in the achievement (Scotland builds something big). The journalist Paul English also talked about the generations of his family who worked at the Port Glasgow yards and it’s a story that’s replicated thousands of times in the West. Shipbuilding is riveted into so many family histories and collective memories here, which is why its decline and near-death is so poignant.

I’ve also felt the power of it whenever I’ve spoken to people who belong to the industry, then and now. I remember standing beneath a great hull at BAE Systems in Govan and talking to a young apprentice there. “There’s an emotional element to building a ship,” she told me. “When you see it finished, you want to take care of it, it’s more than mechanical. And it feels like I’m part of preserving something important in Scottish life.”

The history of it is powerful too. Sir Eric Yarrow, a man with a name famous round the world for shipbuilding, once told me about his service during the war and being part of the escape from Burma. But it was his time running one of the Clyde’s greatest yards that seemed most vivid, perhaps because it had some similar themes. Struggle. Division. Conflict. Retreat. First there was turbulence, then decline.

In some ways, it’s striking how many of the issues from those chaotic days of work-ins and bail-outs and closures are still relevant today with Glen Rosa. It seems clear, for example, that without the award of seven more CalMac ferries from the government, the Ferguson’s yard that built Glen Rosa and its sister Glen Sannox has no viable future. But Ferguson’s weren’t very good – the ferries are late, over-budget and plagued with problems – so the question (as it was in the 1970s) is to what extent public money should support a business that isn’t cutting it.

I’m still not sure what the answer to that is, although the huge amounts of public cash that supported the industry in the 70s couldn’t prevent its decline in the end, and the signs from the current Scottish Government are not good. Speaking at the launch of the Glen Rosa this week, minister Mairi McAllan was asked if she had full confidence in Ferguson’s and her answer was that her confidence was “not unmitigated”. My first reaction to that was “ouch”, but my second was “bit rich” given there are still serious questions about the procurement process and how public money was spent. Dear Ms McAllan: our confidence in you and your government is also “not unmitigated”.

It strikes me too, even as the Glen Rosa slides down the slipway, that we still haven’t addressed the issues that caused the ferry crisis in the first place, which is the other reason I’m torn about all this. The Glen Rosa is a beautiful thing, a product of great skill and work and sweat, but all the design challenges, and the delays, and the over-runs, and the over-spends (look how easy it is for our £97m to turn into our £360m) basically come back to the same thing: the Glen Rosa is the wrong ship.

Speak to the people of Arran and you’ll see what I mean. What they really want, they said over and over again, is two, or ideally three, small ferries or catamarans that can zip across to Ardrossan back-to-back. Instead, they’ve been given (or will eventually) two great hulking things that mean less frequency, less resilience and less flexibility as well as higher operating costs. They’re also lumbered with a ropey booking system, piers and other bits of infrastructure that aren’t fit for purpose, and an increasingly risk-averse attitude to the weather that’s led to more cancellations. It’s a mess and Glen Rosa is not the answer.

Read more: Mark Smith: Another one bites the dust. Wake up, Glasgow

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The only solution, as far as I can see, now that we’re stuck with the Glen Rosa and the Glen Sannox, is that we try to avoid the same thing happening all over again by holding an inquiry into every aspect of the fiasco. Why were Scotland’s ferries allowed to get so old and clapped-out? Why didn’t the government listen to the islanders? Is the tripartite system of Transport Scotland, CMAL and CalMac the best way to do things? How did Ferguson’s really end up with the contract? And how, if at all, can shipbuilding carry on in Scotland? All of this needs answered for the future, if only to avoid all of us chucking millions of pounds into the sea again.

In the meantime, I’m watching videos of the Glen Rosa on the slipway and trying to put all my conflicting feelings into context. I’m a bit of a ferry romantic I must say (happy days eating scrambled egg rolls across the Firth of Clyde) and there’s undoubtedly still a special pride in the idea of Clyde-built, reduced as it is. But Glen Rosa was not the way to do it, which leaves the question, lingering since the 70s, of whether we can be competitive enough, and efficient enough, and well-governed enough, to do it properly. I’m not sure. Really, I’m not sure.