Transport Minister Keith Brown has found it incumbent upon him to meet the UK’s new and underinformed junior Transport Minister to discuss the proposed closure of Clyde Coastguard.
Forth Coastguard was closed a few weeks ago with – obviously – no effective opposition from the Scottish Government.
At the meeting Keith Brown is said to have raised concerns that lives will be put at risk as a result of UK Government cuts to Scotland’s coastguard stations – a novel, if limited, understanding of the matter.
Realistically, what on earth could come out of a meeting between two juniors – a Westminster also-ran and a Scottish junior Minister for Transport just about out of credibility?
And our junior was even less effective than theirs.
Mr Brown’s performance was such that it was not even able to overcome a new junior Minister who, on the evidence of his recent appearance before the Transport Select Committee on this very issue, has no idea of the detail of the matter.
Being rebuffed by Stephen Hammond is not the sort of button badge one would wear with pride.
If the Scottish Government is serious about making a last ditch effort to recover the ground it has lost over its abject failure to defend Scotland’s coasts, it will need a full delegation to the UK Prime Minister himself.
It will take a well briefed and determined trinity of Keith Brown’s boss, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Nicola Sturgeon; Cabinet Secretary for Finance, John Swinney; and the First Minister.
And they will need to come back home with not only a reprieve for Clyde Coastguard but the recovery of Forth.
If they prepare their arguments fully over the next couple of weeks, the Westminster House of Commons Transport Select Committee is likely to open the door for them – and we would advise them to be ready to walk through that door immediately, confidently and with the right ammunition ready to fire.
The Transport Select Committee has held an unusual two hearings on this matter – evidence of the grave reservations that – rightly – persist about the soundness of preparation and the consequences of the revised coastguard service.
Its report is due in around three weeks time. We understand that it is likely to be lucid in its conclusions. If it does what it should do, it will be hard for the UK Prime Minister to do other than call a halt to the coastguard closures, pending a review.
The Scottish Government – in full force at the most senior level – will need to press for such a halt, to insist on direct involvement in the consequent review of the future of the coastguard service – and on the immediate restitution of Forth Coastguard.
Personnel, skills and local knowledge are already lost and what remains is fading fast as the force of coming closures sees staff leave the service. There will be serious rebuilding to be done – now.
The Scottish Government could brief itself for effective opposition no better than by reading the article we published yesterday – One for Scotland: a thought provoking incident scenario under the new minimal coastguard service – and the chain of comments that follow it, some adding substantially in a variety of expert insights and information.
This is the real situation the Scottish Government must successfully address.
Immediate update: We will be publishing late tomorrow morning on crucial preparations for the closure of Clyde Coastguard we have just been informed are about to take place. The Scottish Government will need to act tomorrow to get an interim stay on these.