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.