ForArgyll and the Beautiful Irony

There is a beautiful irony in ForArgyll's breathless and eulogistic coverage of Western Ferries plans to build two new bigger boats and effectively make redundant two of its present fleet - a pop fans teen magazine could hardly better the headline "Western Ferries delivers Dunoon dream: two new vehicle and passenger ferries" and its description of the "Board enthusiastically deciding to start building and it is this that leads Gordon Ross, Western's Managing Director, to describe himself, with barely concealed excitement, as 'having a new job'

It goes on to talk of a "hugely morale boosting announcement", the "energetic commitment to Dunoon, is reassuring and exciting" and a "positive development" without any real acknowledgment - or indeed apparent knowledge or interest - of the real traumas which Michael ("use it or lose it") Russell and his Government have inflicted on us in the case of ferries here - see elsewhere on this website.

It also says "Welcoming this announcement from Western Ferries, Argyll and Bute's MSP, Michael Russell, himself a resident of Cowal, says: 'This is an excellent vote of confidence in Cowal and in the long term viability of the crossing".

So where are the two boats made surplus to requirements on Westerns existing route going to go? On this, ForArgyll is confused. It says:

"No decision is yet in the offing but, before any rush to speculate, these boats are not the right craft for a run to Arran. So, where previously Gordon Ross has set up a drive past of tanks on the CalMac lawns - and whatever he might dream up in the future, a Western Ferries adventure to Arran will not be led by these boats".

No, I will tell you where they are planned to go - and ForArgyll would also know if they knew anything about the area and its history, just inquired locally, or even read newspapers and what Western had already said they planned instead of spouting misinformed stuff like this

They are suitable for the Ardyne Point (Cowal) to Port Bannatyne (Bute) links that Western have long said they want to run. Now they will have the boats what about the infrastructure? Well, of course they want the council to build that, and an FoI document I have just been given by Ronnie Smith has Western telling the SNP government ""Mr Ross (MD Western Ferries) has made clear that his preference would be to remove the current linkspan at Dunoon and move it to the south of Cowal allowing Western Ferries to provide a Cowal-Bute ferry service"

This would enable Western to run a shuttle service from Port Bannatyne to Ardyne Point up to 3 times an hour. With these two vessels remaindered from Dunoon, with the Cowal land bridge it could link with its Dunoon operation (with through-ticketing of course) and be a frequent to late night alternative for many Wemyss Bay Rothesay users, especially those going Glasgow direction (which is most) - this would then enable Western to start complaining about subsidy to CalMac on Wemyss Bay Rothesay (just like in the Dunoon case) and Wemyss Bay Rothesay will be lucky to finish up with the passenger-only service that "ForArgyll" tells those of us in the Dunoon area to make the most of and Michael Russell tells us to "use it or lose it" (by which he means the town centre service now reduced to passenger-only, thanks to his government).

Western Ferries is already one of the most expensive ferry services of its type and there was a cast iron economic case for maintaining and developing the town centres Gourock-Dunoon vehicular service It was the existence of the town centres vehicular ferry service that had had been a barrier standing in the way of this next stage in Western's plans, and it was the case for such a town centres service that ForArgyl worked hard to undermine.

So where is the irony in all this? It is that apart from the eventual impact on Wemyss Bay Rothesay, the Port Bannatyne to Ardyne Point service would immediately knock out the CalMac Colintraive-Rhobodach service for which it would be a clear substitute (I suggest that ForArgyll looks at a map if they do not believe this). And the link is that this will affect many businesses in the Colintraive area, which is where Michael Russell MSP is resident (and who the site has uncritically promoted) and where ForArgyll staff also have business and residential interests.

Yes, all in all, For Argyll and Michael Russells' promotion of the "Dunoon dream" may finish up with them all having to answer awkward questions down the Colintraive Hotel. And frankly they will not get much sympathy in Dunoon given the contempt and ignorance with which they have treated us

Neil Kay 12th September 2011