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In a debate at Westminster, East Lothian Alba MP Kenny MacAskill claimed Labour’s former First Minister Jack McConnell, who introduced a similar fund for air routes, had been more radical then than Nicola Sturgeon was now on ferry links.
He also called on the UK Government to offer cash support for new ferry routes through a scheme equivalent to the EU's Motorway of the Seas fund which provided help before Brexit.
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"In Ireland, three main operators now offer passenger services, with some sailing up to five times a week from Cork, Dublin and Rosslare, heading to Roscoff, Bilbao and Cherbourg, ensuring access to their principal markets and allowing for inbound as well as outbound tourism.
“Scotland and Ireland have similar sized populations, and both are dependent on trade and tourism. For both countries Europe is a big and major market, yet Irish maritime links are growing almost exponentially, and Scotland remains tied up in port with increasing paperwork.
"Both the UK and Scottish Governments claim they support the establishment of new services but insist that they must be market driven, which means they must be entirely self-funding, with no state support.”
But he said such an approach did not apply to other forms of transport. “No one would dream of suggesting that a haulier was required to provide the road network or that a rail freight operator should build a rail line, even though that is state support, albeit in a different way. Expecting an operator to acquire ships and launch the service without any support is equally perverse.
"Scotland previously operated a route development fund to establish direct air links. That was seen as essential to growing trade and in-bound tourism, as well as, given the environmental impact of aviation, to avoiding an additional flight almost invariably to a London airport. That was supported by all major parties and applied until EU regulations brought it to a halt in 2007.
"What does it say when the administration of Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale were more radical in providing air routes for Scotland than Nicola Sturgeon’s are in providing maritime links?”
Mr MacAskill said facilities at Rosyth, which had been used by the ferry service to Zeebrugge before it was finally withdrawn in 2018, were still there and other options included building a new port at Cockenzie in his own constituency.
But the Scottish Government had failed to show any sign of urgency or ambition. “Instead, they have remained thirled to a free market dogma that might be expected of London, but which could and should be rejected by an administration with Scotland’s interests at heart. Although a four-nations approach may have merit in aspects of health policy, with ferries it leaves Scotland isolated, sucking everything into the ports in England and leaving Scotland marooned.”
Replying to the debate, junior Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart acknowledged the benefit a ferry service in reducing short-haul flights, but said there were ferries from Zeebrugge to the UK and decisions on routes had to be a commercial matter.