22 March 2012 Last updated at 15:53
From Democracy Live: Labour MSP Elaine Murray led the debate on ferry services
Reintroducing a ferry service between Lochboisdale in South Uist and Mallaig on the mainland is being considered, the Scottish government has said.
The route, axed in the 1990s, would involve a shorter crossing than what is offered on the current Lochboisdale to Oban sailing.
During a debate secured by Labour, Infrastructure Minister Alex Neil said campaigners’ calls were being heard.
Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said the Mallaig service made economic sense.
She said a sailing to Mallaig would take three-and-a-half hours, while it was a six-and-a-half hour trip to Oban.
Ms Grant said the withdrawal of road equivalent tariff (RET) – a low-cost ferry fare scheme – from large commercial vehicles added to the need for the shorter crossing.
She said: “This policy will have a detrimental effect on all the islands, but especially those with the longest crossings.
“The government appears to have no concept of the disadvantage caused by geography.”
Pros and cons
Mr Neil said the government was listening “very, very carefully” to campaigners.
He said pros and cons of asking ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) to reintroduce the service had to be considered.
The minister added: “There are pros, but also cons, not least that the capital cost and resource cost of reintroducing a direct service do need to be addressed.”
Campaign group Missing Link said the government’s assessment that it would cost £26m to reinstate the service was wrong.
Ronnie MacKinnon, chairman of Missing Link member organisation Lochboisdale Community Council, said: “They don’t need a new vessel – there is already a spare vessel in the CalMac fleet.
“The MV Isle of Arran has been sitting idle, docked at Campbeltown for the last fortnight doing nothing.
“She could easily be deployed on the Lochboisdale Mallaig route at no extra cost.”
Reintroducing ferry link debated