As the long-running ferries capacity and reliability crisis in the Western Isles starts again to have a direct impact on people and their hopes and needs, the politicians in Holyrood have been squabbling over obscure bits of paper - and the time being 'wasted' - as some see it - on ferries.
Yet today (Saturday May 14) - which is scarcely part of the summer season - the Loch Portain ferry between Leverburgh and Berneray is running out of space for foot passengers. The 08:10 from Leverburgh and the 17:20 from Berneray are fully booked for foot passengers.
And Lochboisdale is readying itself to be deprived once again of any ferry service at all. Due to essential repairs required to MV Lord of the Isles’ drencher system, the vessel will be withdrawn from service on Tuesday 17 May. The vessel is estimated to return to service, at the earliest, by 25 May.
Due to the passage time required to sail to Greenock to commence works the vessel will be unable to operate any services on Tuesday 17 May, so all sailings have now been cancelled. As a result, all Mallaig-Lochboisdale sailings will be cancelled up to and including the 09:40 departure from Lochboisdale on Wednesday 25 May.
Meanwhile Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has responded to a tweet from senior SNP MP Pete Wishart in which he complained about the attention the Scottish Parliament is paying to the ongoing ferry crisis. The rather repetitive tweet is pictured above.
Mr Cameron said: “This comment from Pete Wishart once again confirms that the SNP simply do not care about the ferry crisis affecting our island communities.
“Nicola Sturgeon has expressed indignation when journalists dare raise the issue with her, and now we see the nationalist chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee rudely dismissing attempts to uncover the truth behind the SNP's ferry shambles."
On Wednesday, May 11, the Scottish Government announced that the document confirming which Scottish minister agreed to proceed with offering Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited a contract for the building of two new ferries in October 2015 has been located and provided to Parliament. These vessels are still unfinished and five years overdue, including one intended for the Uig Triangle of routes.
The document, which has since been published on the Scottish Government website, shows that former Transport Minister Derek Mackay approved the awarding of the contract. Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth revealed the document to Parliament during a debate on ferries on Wednesday afternoon.
Ms Gilruth said:“The email makes clear who approved the decision to award the contract to build vessels 801 and 802 to Ferguson’s shipyard.
“It shows that the decision was rightly and properly taken by then Transport Minister Derek Mackay.
“We said we would continue to look for the document and that is exactly what we have done. It was found because a copy of an email chain had been retained by someone in Scottish Government Finance because the then Finance Secretary was briefed on the decision. By chance, a copy of that email chain – between two officials who left the government some years ago – includes the email from the Transport Minister’s Private Office and was located in someone’s electronic files.”
Scottish Labour Transport spokesperson Neil Bibby said:“At last the long-awaited ‘lost’ documents have been miraculously found – but these emails raise more questions than they answer.
“It is a disgrace that this document was not given to Audit Scotland originally. It begs the question what other information has been kept from them and the public.
“We still don’t have a shred of information about why this decision was made, and now these documents show that it was cleared by John Swinney. There are serious questions now for the Deputy First Minister.
“We can see here that multiple Ministers agreed to plough ahead with this dodgy deal, wasting millions of pounds of taxpayer cash on a contract that the experts warned them against – but we still don’t know why.
“The SNP are in a quagmire of spin and cover up here. We still need real answers for the taxpayers, islanders and shipyard workers who have all been so badly let down.
Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said, “The SNP’s lack of transparency and honesty over this debacle is shameful.
“It is all too easy due to their machinations to shift blame and confuse the situation with lost and then found documentation to lose sight of the crux of this matter: - our communities have been badly let down here, and are continuing to be gaslit by their own Government. Ferries were promised and they are still not here. Communities are in crisis and I have seen little evidence that the SNP has learnt anything of worth from their mistakes.
“We need a public enquiry, and we need the Scottish Government to get its act together and start treating our island communities with the respect they deserve and the service that they were promised.”
To those outside the bubble of Holyrood hysteria, it would seem far more important to solve the problem of what is going to be done today, tomorrow and next week to keep the "sea roads of the Isles" open to to traffic rather than engage in a pointless blame-game pursuit of who signed what nearly ten years ago. And also, some semblance of a plan to avoid this happening again in the future would be great.