SNP's credibility has been shot to pieces by delayed ferries, deposit return scheme and more – Alex Cole-Hamilton
Last week I visited the Royal Navy aircraft carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales. With a water displacement of 65,000 tonnes, she is the biggest seagoing asset ever commissioned by the Royal Navy in its 400-year history and took five years to complete at Rosyth’s Babcock naval yard.
As part of a parliamentary visit, we also observed one of the Type 31 frigates currently under construction there. Babcock is currently producing five of these state-of-the-art warships at a rate of one a year. That’s a heck of a clip when you contrast it with the scandal at a Clyde shipyard. It’s emerged Scottish ministers had issued a very rare written instruction to break the rules of good finance in pressing ahead with the completion of hull 802, the beleaguered passenger ferry under construction in Port Glasgow.
Let’s be clear, things have gone so badly wrong with that project, it has been established it could cost less to abandon it entirely and commission a new ferry from scratch from somewhere else. When you consider the first steel was cut for this boat seven years ago, that is a catastrophic failure of project management. The shipyard workers have been betrayed and had their reputations trashed. Given the yard was taken into public ownership, it’s an indictment of the SNP’s ability to deliver big capital projects.
This isn’t just an embarrassment, it's causing material harm to island communities reliant on existing vessels that are reaching the end of their lifespans and which keep breaking down. This is certainly the largest disaster in the SNP’s industrial strategy, but it is by no means the only one.
Ministers trumpeted hundreds of jobs would be created in exchange for hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer guarantees for an aluminium smelter in Lochaber. Those new jobs have not materialised. Then there were promises of jobs at the BiFab yard in Fife, which again cost taxpayers a fortune they won’t get back.
Remember too that almost in the same breath as announcing the decision to press ahead with hull 802, the Scottish Government signalled that they may abandon their plans for a deposit return scheme for recycling bottles and cans. This comes after Scottish retailers and producers have spent tens of millions of pounds getting ready for the scheme.
The SNP have a habit of big and grand economic gestures and photocalls – images of Nicola Sturgeon “launching” a ferry with painted-on windows come to mind – but their credibility with Scottish business is now shot to pieces. I spent last Friday meeting big retailers and small businesses which between them employ thousands of people in every corner of the country. They are at their wits' end. They are willing to try and make new initiatives like the deposit return scheme work, but the government keeps moving the goalposts.
Since becoming leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, I’ve sought out the views of business and entrepreneurs. They are crying out for government to adopt a common-sense approach to business and growth. I want Scotland to make things again, to imagine things again and to be at the cutting edge of innovation and technology. Any ambition the SNP had to do that has now sunk without trace.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western