Ferry crisis failure by SNP is ‘criminal negligence', Lib Dem MP claims

The ferry crisis is a failure by the SNP and represents "criminal negligence”, a Lib Dem MP has claimed.

Ferry leaving Uig Bay on Isle of Skye. Picture: Getty Images
Ferry leaving Uig Bay on Isle of Skye. Picture: Getty Images

Alistair Carmichael accused ministers of doing lasting damage to Scotland, and failing to “get the basics right”.

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, the Orkney and Shetland MP also claimed the SNP was taking people in rural areas for granted.

He said: "At its heart, the cause of the problem is that the SNP are determined to run everything from Edinburgh and it's these coastal communities that are most affected and have no say in how these things are made to work. But you see what is happening in in the Western Isles; you have people sleeping on the pier in their cars.

"There are people sleeping, I'm told in church halls because they can't get off the islands.

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"It could take maybe a decade to undo.

"We are maybe five years behind in the Northern Isles unless they do something to deal with the lack of proper capacity in Shetland in particular.

"We've already seen spikes of traffic that have had people sleeping on the floor and that's just unacceptable.

"The fundamental rules of island life and island economics are if you get the transport right, then just about everything else falls into place because without decent transport links you don't have the access to the full range of medical facilities that the community will need.

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"You cannot grow your economy because the people who are catching fish or farming fish or raising stock are not going to be able to get them off the island.

“This is absolutely criminal. This just should not be allowed to be happening.

“For them to allow Scotland's ferry services to collapse in this way is criminally negligent.

“We just want a government that will get on and get the basics right."

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The claim follows CalMac vessel MV Hebrides being out of action for three days as it received urgent repairs due to issues with its carbon dioxide (CO2) firefighting system.

Routes between Uig on Skye, Lochmaddy on North Uist and Tarbert on Harris were among those affected by the breakdown.

The Scottish Government has also faced criticism over a five-year delay on the construction of two new ferries being built at Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow. They are thought to be about two-and-a-half times over budget.

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Transport minister Jenny Gilruth has been urged to “urgently” intervene in the ferries crisis.

The Lib Dems Home Affairs spokesman also questioned why SNP MPs in the region were not speaking out.

He said: “It's absolutely astonishing to me that the Scottish nationalists in the West Coast and Argyle are not absolutely spitting tacks about this.

"You know, Liberal Democrats last week called for the recall the Scottish Parliament for a statement on this and not one of them thought it was worth supporting.

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“I see the strength of feeling in my own community when something goes wrong with our transport links, I can't believe that people in the Western Isles feel any differently.”

Mr Carmichael suggested the SNP was happy to ignore the issue because it did not impact as many voters as something in Edinburgh.

He explained: “In terms of Scotland's total population, these are not the most populous areas, but these are some of the most important but economically fragile communities in the country.

"These are the ones that should be the first communities to get attention from government ministers. They shouldn't be playing catch up at the end of like this.

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"If you closed the M8 Glasgow to Edinburgh it would be on every front page of every news channel and you know there would be an immediate recall of parliament for island communities.

“I can only assume that they're not acting because they don't feel the need to act. These are communities on which politically and electorally they can rely so they can be taken for granted.”

Mr Carmichael also defended the Lib Dems’ new energy furlough scheme, costing £36 billion and paid for by the windfall tax on oil and gas company profits.

He said: “We are the first to talk about this sort of thing and I don’t know whether or not every detail of the energy furlough is absolutely correct.

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”But I do know that something of this sort is absolutely what is needed.

“Let's be blunt about this, it is dramatic to say it, but it's true nonetheless that unless we get this right, there will be people this year, the poorest and most vulnerable people in our communities who as a consequence of this energy crisis have avoidable deaths.”

Scottish Conservative Shadow Transport Minister Graham Simpson MSP said: “The SNP have continually let down our islanders year after year. Their ageing ferry fleet is simply not fit for purpose yet SNP ministers continue to neglect islanders’ needs at every single turn.

“Islanders are beyond breaking point and are having to resort to desperate measures due to constant cancellations of lifeline services.

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“This situation is completely unacceptable and the buck stops with SNP ministers who are ultimately responsible for the continued sorry state of island ferry services.”

A spokesperson for the First Minister said: “The SNP government cares deeply about all our island communities, and despite the challenges we face we are continuing to deliver a huge amount for them.

“That includes investment of more than £2 billion in Hebridean and Northern Isles ferry services since 2007, while we have also cut fares for many island communities with the introduction of road equivalent tariffs (RET) which has seen an average fare reduction of 34 per cent for passengers and 40 per cent for cars and continues to save travellers around £25m a year.

“Overall, our schedule, sailing and fleet have increased during our time in office.

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“We never take anyone’s electoral support for granted and never will – and Alistair Carmichael’s ludicrous, over the top comments show the Lib Dems are increasingly an irrelevant sideshow.”

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