Alan Simpson: Islanders have been left up the creek without a paddle or a ferry

IF you’ve got a spare £65,000 to burn and fancy a wee change of pace, then look no further than a quaint little bothy on the island of Eigg, which has just come up for sale.

Complete with no mod cons and just one room, it would ideally suit a single person with no intention of starting a family or a pensioner who simply wants to get away from theirs.

It would also suit an eco-warrior keen for the off-grid lifestyle that is becoming quite the thing amongst the fraternity that used to be known as hippies.

Living on a Scottish island is certainly not for the faint-hearted and is a lifestyle choice that many find is not for them once they get there.

But crucially, islanders have to rely on one thing that the rest of us don’t, and that is CalMac ferries, which have been fairly erratic of late, it is fair to say.

No problem though, as there will be a couple of brand-spanking new ones along in a minute after they are built in a Romanian or Turkish shipyard.

After making that journey to start service, the Minch in a Force 8 will seem like a breeze.

Needs must I suppose, seeing as there isn’t a nationalised shipyard in Scotland to build vessels for a taxpayer funded ferry operator.

Oh no, hang on…

Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government have really excelled themselves in this one.

A ferry contract devised in St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh is put out to tender. One of the bidders, Ferguson’s is ultimately based in the same building, yet missed out on the shortlist. Surely some high level nudges and winks could have taken place around a water cooler somewhere in the building before it was even put out to tender.

But no, not in the crazy world of Transport Scotland and CMAL, which both appear to a law unto themselves, despite being effectively the same department.

Even Sir Humphrey in Yes, Minister would struggle to attempt to talk this one through. The civil servants play absolutely everything by the book even if the book makes no sense whatsoever.

There is no doubt that whatever shipyard builds the two new ferries, they will be absolutely fine if a little later in their delivery than they would have if the nationalised shipyard was simply given the contract from the owner of the shipyard.

No need for a tender if the owner of both ship and yard were the same, surely? EU state aid rules don’t even apply now either, which makes it even more baffling.

Obviously, Ferguson’s have made a right horlicks of the two ferries it is currently building but as the contract seems to be back on track, what better way to safeguard jobs than giving it another two?

Meanwhile, on the islands, anger is rising as ferries are cancelled all across the network due to the ageing fleet.

The islands don’t need another bothy-dweller to thrive, they need a transport quango that’s fit for purpose.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992