In March 2004 I visited Stornoway in the Western Isles where I addressed a full Council meeting on the issue of Road Equivalent Tariffs. RET is a policy which the SSP supports which would mean that island communities would not be penalised by the excessive costs of transporting goods. It seeks to ensure the cost of carrying goods by sea works out the same as it would by road.
The full Council meeting was a peculiar experience for me as it is conducted in Gaelic and thereafter translated into English.
Whilst at the Council meeting I spoke to Councillor Donald Manford from Barra. He asked me if I'd be prepared to lay down a question to the Transport Minister Tavish Scott upon my return to Parliament about the possibility of starting a new ferry route between Lochboisdale and Mallaig. I told him I had no objection but asked why he didn't ask the local member. He told me that he had done so repeatedly but the local Labour member Alastair Morrison had refused.
Upon my return to Edinburgh I duly laid the question. A couple of weeks later the minister replied to say it can’t be done; the tides didn't allow it and a new ferry and new crew would be necessary and so it was basically a non starter.
I copied the answer to Donald Manford, who, anticipating just such a reply got the South Uist Community Council on to the case.
They were able to show conclusively that the tides were fine and that the current ferry from Oban to Castlebay on Barra could easily include the Lochboisdale to Mallaig route without difficulty.
To cut a long story short they were able to convince the civil servants at the Transport Dept of the case and low and behold the Scottish Executive has now offered the route for tenders to come forward.
Councillor Manford was on radio and TV up in the Western Isles all last week celebrating and informing everyone that this success had originated with the question from a friendly MSP for the Lothians, Colin Fox of the Scottish Socialist Party.
Despite vain attempts by Alastair Morrison the Labour member to try and claim the credit the South Uist Community Council has invited me to join them on the maiden voyage sometime next year.