Ferry: Passengers have to take longer route via Oban. Pic: © STV
A new ferry service linking the Western Isles to the mainland should be reconsidered as part of a national review, according to the Labour Party.
The party wants the Scottish Government to establish a link between Lochboisdale on South Uist and Mallaig. Islanders currently travel the longer route to Oban.
However, Infrastructure Secretary Alex Neil said the route was cancelled in 2001 by the previous Labour-led administration.
He said the government will listen to all views as part of its consultation on ferry services.
Labour MSP Elaine Murray led a debate on the issue, which is the focus of a local campaign, at Holyrood on Thursday.
She said: “There are many benefits – not just the benefits of cost to the traveller, which is significant.
“There are also benefits to carbon emissions because there will be shorter journeys and there will be less driving if people are coming south.
“I’m disappointed there doesn’t seem to be consideration of this at the moment. Perhaps we will see a change when the final ferries plan comes out.”
Mr Neil told Parliament that Labour had done “nothing” to revive the service when the party was in power with the Liberal Democrats.
Referring to a 2005 report on the ferry route, he said it would cost between £3.5m and £4m a year – on top of the £26m cost of a new ferry.
“Elaine Murray has to tell us, if she is going to be honest, she has to tell where the money is going to come from,” he said.
“We would like to see the maximum number of services on the ferries in the whole of our island communities. We recognise the special needs of the islands communities.
“But we have to operate within the resources given to us – the very limited resources – by Westminster under both Labour and Tory governments.”
Western Isles SNP MSP Alasdair Allan said that if the resources could be found, a Mallaig to Lochboisdale link should be “seriously” looked at.
“There is, I believe, a very strong case to be made for a shorter sea crossing from Lochboisdale,” he said.