Lib Dem attack on ferry scheme described as ‘nonsense’

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SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has accused the Liberal Democrats of ‘making no sense’ after one of their MSPs called the resignation of the Scottish government’s transport Minister over the extension of a scheme aimed at reducing ferry fares.

Mr Allan was responding to calls from Lib Dem Argyll and Bute MP Alan Reid for the resignation of Transport Minister Stewart Steven after the scheme, aimed at delivering cheaper fares for islanders, tourists and businesses was extended for a year.


SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has accused the Liberal Democrats of ‘making no sense’ after one of their MSPs called the resignation of the Scottish government’s transport Minister over the extension of a scheme aimed at reducing ferry fares.

Mr Allan was responding to calls from Lib Dem Argyll and Bute MP Alan Reid for the resignation of Transport Minister Stewart Steven after the scheme, aimed at delivering cheaper fares for islanders, tourists and businesses was extended for a year.

The Road equivalent tariff scheme bases the cost of travelling on the equivalent distance by road.  The introduction of the scheme in October 2008 has led to a huge increase in the number of passengers and vehicles on the ferry routes between the Western Isles and mainland ferry ports.  Visit Scotland has claimed that it has boosted tourist visits to the region.

However the Lib Dem MSP has accused the Scottish government of trying to bribe voters from the Western Isles ahead of next year’s Scottish elections and of having a “soft spot” for the region.

He said: “I think it is undoubtedly favouritism because the Western Isles was the first seat that the SNP ever won at a general election.

“I think they have always had a soft spot for the Western Isles and they are obviously very worried that if they were to cancel the scheme to save money then they would lose the Western Isles seat.”

The Argyll and Bute MSP says wants the scheme extended to include other areas.

Western Isles’ SNP MSP Alasdair Allan dismissed the remarks as ‘nonsense’ and pointed out that part of the region referred to by Mr Reid included an SNP seat and that the scheme already included islands in Argyll.

Mr Allan said: “I don’t think that makes much sense because Argyll in Holyrood is an SNP seat as well.

“I don’t think it makes much sense for another reason which is that there are at least two Argyll islands that currently benefit from the scheme.”

The news that the scheme was to be extended until 2012 was welcomed by Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil

Mr MacNeil commented:
“This is great news and I am delighted that the lobbying done by local MSP Alasdair Allan and myself has paid off. People across the islands will welcome this news, as we have seen passenger and vehicle numbers increase hugely since the scheme’s introduction in October 2008.

“In particular, the tourism industry in the Western Isles has seen great benefits since the start of the scheme.

“Almost on a daily basis, I was being asked by constituents what was happening with the scheme beyond 2011. This announcement will be hugely welcomed not just by residents of the Western Isles but also by the many visitors who are now able to visit the islands because of the reduced ferry fares.”

A spokesman for the Scottish government said:
“Shetland and Orkney residents already receive a significant Scottish government discount in fares through subsidy, and routes to Shetland already have a lower fare per mile than other islands.

“The Scottish government’s support to the Northern Isles ferry services has increased year on year, from £29m in 2007/08 to £36.2m in the current financial year – an increase of some 25%.”

He added:
“We are piloting the road equivalent tariff approach to setting fares in Scotland as we believe that is the best way to deliver cheaper fares for islanders, tourists and businesses.

“While we have focused the RET pilot on the Western Isles, we want this test case to pave the way for cheaper fares for all our remote and island communities.”

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