The sea can be viewed either as an obstacle to transport or a means to achieve it.
For long Scotland was in the former category, building great ships and sailing the Seven Seas. Recently, though, it’s been the latter, as maritime links shrank and then the Rosyth direct service to Europe ended in 2010.
But with Brexit beckoning, you’d have thought steps to prepare for difficulties would have been embarked upon. Ireland, foreseeing issues, more than just delays, at customs expanded its maritime links.
Existing services were added to and options established. Dublin, Rosslare and Cork have passenger ferry services into France and Spain, with additional freight-only services going to the low countries, as well as those countries. Brexit has happened but Ireland was ready and prepared.
Road freight too began to change the old habits with those in the north of the island who would previously have taken the short north channel crossing to Scotland and then the motorway to ports in the south of England. Now it’s a direct service to the continent, allowing goods and passengers in as well as out.
South of the Border, some steps, many as solid as a landlubber on a stormy sea, were taken, from lorry parks at Dover to costly failed attempts to reopen ports.
But in Scotland there seems to have been precisely nothing. Brexit came as did Covid and Rosyth became a dock for berthed cruise liners. Scottish exporters struggled to get their goods out whether through Hull, or more distant English Channel ports. It wasn’t just customs but distance and delay.
And that was even before the current driver and fuel shortages hit. The former has been coming and you’d have thought steps to address it would be made.
One way of dealing with it is by sending what’s termed “unaccompanied freight”. That simply means you put the trailer or container on a ferry and no driver’s needed. Cost may still have been an obstacle before for using sea freight but as fuel shortages bite – and we’re told higher fuel prices are here to stay – it may prove to be cheaper than road or rail alternatives.
So why has nothing been done? The Scottish government say they support it but it has to be commercial. But if that were applied to rail we’d probably only have the Glasgow-Edinburgh line operating.
Road travel is already subsidised, as we pay to construct the motorway network and that’s not an inconsiderable amount. So why can’t we do as in Ireland and provide some incentives for a maritime motorway?
Funding used to be available through the EU and its incumbent on the UK government to detail what support will now be available for ports or operators. A port that actually operates is of more urgent need to Scotland than a freeport.
Before and during May’s Scottish elections, the Greens promoted the re-opening of routes from Rosyth. It’s time they delivered continental ferry services for the country, not just ministerial limos for themselves.