Friday, October 20, 2017

Nationalizing Northlink? Not So Fast!

When I was yet in Scotland (and even thereafter), I wrote extensively about Scottish ferries, particularly those serving Orkney and Shetland. This week, Around Orkney featured an interview with a representative from the Rail, Maritime, and Transport (RMT) union, which is advocating for the nationalization of the Northern Isles ferry services that serve Orkney and Shetland. I have to be honest: the idea that anyone would actually suggest this sort of boggles my mind.

To the members of my American audience who may be reading this (and who may not be familiar with the term), "nationalization" means that the government takes over a private enterprise and runs it. So, for example, Social Security is a nationalized pension program. It denotes the running of a service or production effort as a function of the government.

The Scottish Government, which has been held by the Scottish National Party (SNP) for many years (see also: prior discussion of the SNP), has come under frequent criticism by Orkney and Shetland for treating the Northern Isles as an afterthought. This sentiment mirrors that in other areas of Scotland. To vastly oversimplify matters: the bulk of the SNP's voters reside in the "Central Belt" between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and those areas get budgetary priority from the SNP. As I've noted previously, the SNP has consolidated things like police control centers (about which I've posted before, and which continue). Rural Scots have regularly expressed their worries that this consolidation, which eliminates local knowledge and institutional memory, would result in diminished service. That contingency seems to be playing out through incidents such as the mistaken dispatch of an air ambulance to Shetland when it was supposed to have gone to Orkney. The trend continues in other sectors, such as Highlands and Islands Airports investigating the possibility of introducing "centralised surveillance" (which I think means consolidation).

The BBC also reported this week that despite the controversies about subsidies for the Northern Isles ferries connecting Orkney and Shetland with Scrabster and Aberdeen; and the inter-island ferries connecting the various Orcadian and Shetlandic islands; the Scottish ferry services have enjoyed a doubling of their overall subsidies in the last decade. So, it sounds as if more money is being thrown at ferries, but that money isn't getting to Orkney or Shetland.

Basically, when you add all of this up, nationalizing the Northern Isles ferry services sounds like a fantastic way to get a ferry service that takes passengers straight from the Firth of Clyde, up through the Minch, through the Pentland Firth, and on down past Aberdeen and into the Firth of Forth, and back again. But, what do I know?

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