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‘Get real’: Pressure on new Green government ministers to deliver Rosyth-Europe ferry link

Alex Salmond watches on with Dominico Comisso, captain of the ‘Scottish Viking’ Norfolkline ship, as it arrives in Rosyth as part of its route to Zeebrugge.

MPs are calling for the Greens to deliver on an election pledge to re-establish a direct ferry link from Rosyth to Europe to help boost jobs, tourism and trade across the country.

Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath MP Neale Hanvey and his Alba colleague Kenny MacAskill urged the SNP’s new government partners to “get real” about setting up new links for freight and passengers as they launched a discussion paper on maritime opportunities for Scotland.

The Scottish Greens pledged at May’s Holyrood election to work with ferry operator Calmac “to create publicly-owned services to continental Europe from places such as Rosyth”.

The Rosyth to Zeebrugge route was the only direct ferry link between Scotland and Europe until passenger services were scrapped in 2010 and freight-only services were terminated in 2018.

An election promise

Speaking in April, Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said: “Scotland’s journey back to Europe starts at this election, and the Scottish Greens want to see new links established from places like Rosyth, which has the advantage of already having infrastructure in place.”

Her party did not respond to multiple requests for comment or questions about what progress has been made in delivering new ferry links.

Scottish Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater arrive at Bute House, Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, to meet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon following their Government Ministerial appointments.

Ms Slater was appointed to the Scottish Government for the first time as a junior minister earlier this year following a power sharing agreement with the SNP.

The government has maintained that any new direct ferry links to Europe can only proceed on a “commercial basis” and not be publicly owned.

Never a better time

Mr Hanvey described the position as “economically illiterate and politically dishonest” because public money is already used to subsidise bus and rail routes.

He argued there has “never been a better time for Scotland to develop its own direct ferry routes to the European mainland.

“What is required is an international joint venture with the Port of Amsterdam or Port of Zeebrugge,” Mr Hanvey said.

Neale Hanvey MP.

“The optimal provision would be two services, benefiting both passengers and businesses.

“You could have two ferries carrying both passengers and freight to Amsterdam and one or two roll-on roll-off freight ferries to Zeebrugge.

“All possible through a simple tendering process.”

Turning their backs

Mr Hanvey insisted that by refusing to act the Scottish Government would be “turning their backs on the people and communities of Rosyth and Fife”.

“Our communities need increased jobs, trade and tourism – all of which would result from the reopening of the Rosyth to Europe route,” he said.

“The Greens were meant to make the Scottish Government ‘real’ but it is the Greens who need to ‘get real’ and deliver the direct ferry link from Rosyth to Europe which Rosyth, Fife and the wider Scottish economy so desperately needs.”

Transport goods at border patrol, Zeebrugge, Belgium.

The discussion paper written by Mr Hanvey and Mr MacAskill contrasts the lack of progress in Scotland with the “decisive” action taken by Ireland in establishing its own freight and passenger ferry services and routes to mainland Europe.

There are currently 10 ferry freight routes connecting Ireland to France, UK, Belgium, Spain and the Netherland, and the paper argues the restoration of the Rosyth link should be just the first step in opening up new routes in Scotland.

Scottish exporters disadvantaged

East Lothian MP Kenny MacAskill, who defected from the SNP to join the Alba Party in March, said: “Scottish exporters are at a distinct disadvantage in terms of cost and efficiency of getting their goods to market.

“The lack of short sea shipping routes connecting Scotland with mainland Europe results in unnecessary lorry loads of goods travelling to English ports for onward shipment, adding extra expense and time to Scottish exporters.

“Existing difficulties in accessing markets were thus compounded by customs and other complexities. Recent fuel shortages, again largely related to Brexit, have further worsened the situation for Scottish exporters.”

Mr MacAskill said the Greens have been “conspicuous by their silence” on setting up new ferry links since entering government.

Kenny MacAskill.
Kenny MacAskill.

“The Greens are now in Government and their co-leader has a specific remit for transport so where is the action we were promised?” he said.

“So far all that Greens have delivered are ministerial seats in ministerial limos and the occasional electric bike.

“Greens must deliver on their commitment to reopen a direct ferry link from Rosyth to Europe or forever be known as the Scottish Greens who turned grey at the first whiff of power”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said it is “supportive of new direct ferry services linking Scotland to Europe”.

He added: “We have been meeting with port operators and others to explore how that might be delivered so that Scottish exporters have more direct, and resilient, routes to market.”

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