As a parable for Green hypocrisy not even Para Handy, the legendary skipper of the Vital Spark, could match Lorna Slater’s latest real-life escapade: the Rum affair. Only the cloth-eared Green minister, whose job description literally comes down to stopping unnecessary travel, would have thought it perfectly fine for the taxpayer to charter her a private vessel to go Rum.
Though many colleagues would have been tempted to stump up the £4.70 to buy Ms Slater a single fare, she could have paid £9.40 for a return on the regular CalMac service along with the rest of the public. Using the CalMac timetable, Ms Slater would still have had over three hours ashore on Rum, plenty of time to meet the islanders.
Instead it was ferry crisis, what crisis? Ms Slater, circular economy minister, seemed entirely oblivious to the optics of hiring a private vessel while the entire west coast ferry service grinds to halt because of the negligence of the SNP government of which she is a part. Chartering boats is not exceptional on the west coast. It’s just a pity it has taken the Scottish Government and CalMac several years to get round to the idea while islands suffer cancellations and their tourism figures plummet.
After months of delay, the MV Alfred has finally been deployed as a back-up to the dilapidated CalMac fleet. Meanwhile, islanders have been warned they will suffer from ferry cancellations and breakdowns for another two years at least while the hulls of the replacement vessels languish at the Ferguson Marine yard. The latest solution, to return the yard to private ownership after spending millions of public money, is a distraction from the fact that the ferries are still not complete and five years overdue.
Our party leader, Anas Sarwar, spent three days last month in the Western Isles listening to the concerns of businesses and communities left on a knife edge of uncertainty because of the SNP’s failures. Island businesses need compensation for their mounting losses caused by ferry cancellations and Scottish Labour will continue to back them. They need chartered vessels urgently to fill the gaps.
We need a Labour government to turn the ferry service around, reform the quangos and boards which have no skin in the game and take no responsibility, and focus on running the ferries properly. Finally, we need a rolling programme of shipbuilding instead of the haphazard commission of vessels here and there. The frigate production line in Govan shows what can be done.
It’s against this scandalous background of breakdown and public transport failure that the tone-deaf Lorna Slater took to sea last week. She’s so removed from the lives of rural and island communities on which her party wants to impose unrealistic conservation measures that I do wonder if she thought she might need her passport to get ashore, fresh with its stamps from her C02 emission-busting holidays to Japan and Canada.
The Rum affair only serves to remind us that with their born-to-misrule attitude, all the Greens in government have achieved is to set back the environmental agenda by years. I suspect Ms Slater, with her jaw-dropping sense of entitlement and hypocrisy, has done the same to her party.
Jackie Baillie is MSP for Dumbarton, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and spokesperson for health