Labour pressures Scottish Government on Dunoon-Gourock ferry

Andy Kerr, shadow Finance Secretary, has, in a Sunday Herald exclusive today, put pressure on the Scottish Government to bring the new contract for the Dunoon-Gourock ferry service to completion.

He has pointed out that the government has still not issued a tender specification and that the timescale of having a new contract operational by the deadline of 1st July 2011 is therefore looking increasingly unachievable.

Mr Kerr is concerned that, with  no obvious sign of action likely to lead to a conclusion of the matter, whatever administration is in power after the May 2011 Scottish Election, is likely to find it has no time left to get the new ferry service into operation by 1st July. This will mean applying for an extension to the deadline to allow the existing service to carry on while arrangements for the future are finalised.

He sees it as irresponsible of the SNP Government,  being prepared to go into an election without having resolved this issue.

It has certainly been a matter that seems to have caused paralysis in political management and has done nothing to earn the SNP administration a reputation for decisive government.

Its handling of the matter under the former Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson indicated little other than the dilatory, the nervous and the outright deceptive.

Instead of transparency and purposive action the concerned public got flannel and delay after delay.

Professor Neil Kay’s Freedom of Information initiatives have revealed that there has indeed been very little action between the Scottish Government’s Transport Department and the European Commission, whose contextually out of kilter competition law has long been problematic.

It is a complete mystery why, after so long, this particular issue has not been settled. It has been there to be confronted and resolved for many years. It has taken no one by surprise.

It is certainly an issue on which the new Transport Minister, Keith Brown, will be immediately tested and will potentially carry the future of his party in government.

The matter is politically supercharged because Argyll and Bute is perceived to be a fulcrum in the 2011 Scottish Election.

It had been a LibDem seat at Holyrood – until Jim Mather put nearly 15% on the SNP vote in 2007 and took the seat with a narrow majority of 819.

Argyll was the last seat to complete its count then, in the Douglas Alexander-inspired nightmare of simultaneous multiple elections and machine counting that failed to work.

Taking Argyll made the SNP the largest party in Holyrood but with no overall majority.

In a largely rural constituency where Labour traditionally struggles, Dunoon, urban and closer to the Labour stronghold of Glasgow, is one of the key pockets of the party’s support in Argyll and Bute.

If the vote is to be close in 2011, Dunoon could be the pivot and Labour the direct beneficiary.

Labour, moreover, is the only one of the four major parties to be utterly uninvolved in what will be the biggest and most potent issue at the election – the local council’s intention to close 25 rural schools – on the back of proposals now publicly shown to be non-compliant with the governing legislation and with seriously flawed factual evidence on every point of its case.

Fasten your seat belts for a white knuckle ride in May. The schools issue is the big one and the ferry issue will swing Dunoon, whose schools are excluded from this procedure  – for the time being – on an unconvincing technicality.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • The comment the Labour is utterly uninvolved with regard to the schools closure programme can be misconstrued. It would have been better to have said that Labour is “utterly untainted” by the proposals as we are not represented on Argyll and Bute Council – roll on 2012 when we can provide some proper opposition.

    Jackie Ballie is the LABOUR MSP for Dumbarton West which covers Helenburgh and the Rosneath Peninsular. She has taken the lead in attempting to resolve matters for the theatenned schools in her patch. She chaired the public protest meeting and has requested an “cross-party” meeting with the relevant minister. This has been reported by the FORARGYLL web site.

    A delegation of Labour members also lobbied the Council at Kilmory on 25 November. You kindly took a photograph of some of us which you allowed us to use. In fact of of our members, Sandra Gasgoigne, who was there all day long wrote to correct the impression that there were no Labour women at the demonstration.

    We have not attempted to be party political on this issue.

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    Mick Rice January 2, 2011 7:21 pm Reply
  • For Mick Rice: A fair point – on two fronts. Labour is utterly untainted by this shambles; and Jackie Baillie is one of the most impressive of all MSPs – as, on the evidence, we have regularly said.

    If she, rather than the unelectable Iain Gray were leading the Labour group, both the :Labour performance and indeed Scottish politics would be infinitely more interesting – and constructive.

    We’ve never witnessed Jackie Baillie go for a cheap political point and every piece of advice we’ve heard her give to constituents in crisis issues – like the ‘safe’ route to school the Arrochar tinies are supposed to walk and the schools falsely under threat in Helensburgh and Lomond – has been very well informed, practical and strategically effective.

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    newsroom January 2, 2011 7:57 pm Reply
  • Must agree with that analysis ‘newsroom’, as heard her give a very candid interview on local radio at the Scottish labour party conference recently. Very straight to the point.

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    phill January 2, 2011 8:36 pm Reply
  • You say “We’ve never witnessed Jackie Baillie go for a cheap political point”.

    Obviously you are not involved in politics in any way. Her manipulation of the alcohol pricing issue was, until now, universally seen as pure “the SNP are for it so we are against it”.

    Even her English Labour colleagues aligned with the SNP position on minimum pricing and are trialling it in Manchester. Jackie Baillie has failed to pay the price politically simply because of Scotland’s pro-Labour media which, now that the Lib Dems have sold their chance of winning Argyll with their schools closure program you seem to have defected from.

    Quite incredible.

    On ferries, the SNP were daft to promise something that cannot be tendered but after nearly 30 years of lunacy on Dunoon-Gourock, the only person with his head screwed on is the boss of west ferries who delivers the service the crossing needs and without a penny of public money.

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    Gordon Kirk January 2, 2011 10:43 pm Reply
  • ‘We’ve never witnessed Jackie Baillie go for a cheap political point’

    Would this be the same Jackie Baillie who led the baying Labour mob in Holyrood to vote down the Government’s Minimum Pricing proposals – to score a cheap political point?

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    Harry Wragg January 3, 2011 9:05 am Reply
  • From Professor Neil Kay:
    There is no surprise to the delays to the Gourock-Dunoon service, I said this was likely nearly a year ago in the local paper, “expect delays that will have the unfortunate effect of shunting as much of this process as is possible until after the Holyrood elections in May 2011, with probable extensions to the contracts of Jupiter and Ali Cat” see

    I expect most of the other “likely” events I cited to still come about.

    There is no problem with EC competition policy, this was clear from my own analysis and discussions with EU officials. But because the Government have not built the car ferries needed, the route will inevitably go (at best) passenger-only when it is tendered. The governments view on this is a bit like Woody Allan’s attitude to death – they know it is inevitable, they just don’t want to be there when it happens.

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    newsroom January 3, 2011 11:37 am Reply
  • For Harry Wragg and Gordon KIrk:
    What we we’re talking about here is how politicians behave out of the limelight and in the bread-and-butter work of being a constituency MSP – which is actually where politicians exert most influence while generating fewer, if any, media attention.

    We share your recoil from this sort of public manoeuvering for political benefit – whoever it comes from – often, as here, with no thought for the welfare of the country at large.

    From where we stand, the greatest disappointment about Holyrood has been its adoption of the British model of government. There was an opportunity for fresh thinking, for the evolution f a model reflecting society as it is and reflecting the nature and character of Scotland.

    The importing of seasoned Westminsterites lke Donald Dewar and David Steel, however personally popular they may have been, was always going to lead to the adoption of the recipe as before.

    So we’ve got the same tired, wasteful old adversarial ‘we’re in, you’re out’ game from times out of mind. And ‘out of mind’ it was and is.

    A pity.

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    newsroom January 3, 2011 11:45 am Reply
  • Cheap political point No 2.

    Is this the same Jackie Baillie who stood outside the Faslane Base handing out leaflets saying how the SNP intended to close the base, when the SNP have always said that they would retain Faslane has a conventional naval base.

    Holyrood is what Tony Blair and New Labour made it. They thought they would always be in control with the strong Labour vote in the central belt. They forgot, or didin’t care, about the rest of scotland and didn’t account for the will of the rest of the Scottish people.

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    Mark McCormack January 3, 2011 12:52 pm Reply

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