For the next two-three days Orkney is without it's lifeline ferry service supplied by Northlink and subsidised by the Scottish Government* led by the Scottish National Party (SNP). This is due to the knock on effect from the volcano eruption in Iceland and cancelled flights etc.
According to BBC Radio Orkney bulletins the Scottish Government have been in discussions over the last couple of days to take the ferry which runs the main Scrabster (North Scotland) to Stromness route (the Hamnavoe) and use it to rescue 200 stranded passengers in Scandinavia. This would be a once only trip but would mean the ferry is out of operation in Orkney for THREE days. OK not too bad as there is the Aberdeen-Kirkwall (Orkney)-Lerwick (Shetland) route and folk are stranded and in need of help. Only it seems that the Scottish Government and ferry operators Northlink, omitted to tell Orkney politicians that as well as taking the Hamnavoe out of service to Orkney, the "Aberdeen" service would not stop at Orkney until further notice due to a backlog of passengers and freight bound for Shetland (which is a hub for North Sea Oil rigs/workers/supplies and of course locals).
Both the Northlink services receive £10m annual subsidy from the Scottish Government as they are declared "lifeline" services. Hmmm OK so the SG can take our so called lifeline service away when it wants then? Accepted this is an emergency and I think folk would have been more amenable to the decision to take the Hamnavoe out of service for a couple of days had it not been that the Aberdeen service is now not available.
There is ONE service running. A single private operator, Pentland Ferries, run by Andrew Banks from Orkney (who receives no subsidy from the SG). He had been involved in discussions relating to the Hamnavoe being out of service and had said that he could take up the slack but it seems even he wasn't told about the Aberdeen service being out of commission for a while. So now it's uncertain whether there is capacity.
You may think this is us pleeping about nothing, but - the majority of supplies for our local shops and supermarkets are transported via these boats, as well as other essential supplies (fuel, supplies for businesses etc) and when there are no flights available it is the ONLY way folk can get south either for business, or vitally visiting Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, as well as the route for post and newspapers.
Northlink said in an interview on Radio Orkney today that they had the only "Euro Class" ferries available in Scotland that could go over to Scandinavia on the rescue mission, and that Shetland had a huge backlog as it provided the only ferry service, and with no planes for days folk needed to get to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for hospital appointments and treatment. That is true - but they omitted to say that the same is true for ORKNEY!
Aberdeen RI is our nearest main hospital - the NHS Balfour Hospital in Orkney provides a limited service (and it is a good service!). But it is more of a "community hospital" providing limited medical and surgical services, Accident & Emergency etc. However if you need a CAT or MRI scan, major surgery, medical treatment, difficult delivery of a baby etc it's a trip by plane to the ARI. But with planes grounded, including the air ambulance (leaving medical evacuation to the Coastguard) the only other option was the Aberdeen ferry. Not now it's not! Although some flights have gone over the last couple of days, it's just been announced (11.25) that ALL flights in and out of Orkney are now grounded!
It begs the question in Orkney as to just what the Scottish Government led by the SNP think of us! Especially as they were not open with our local politicians as to WHAT they wanted (eg TWO not ONE boat). Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP, said when he came to power he wanted a "Scotland independent of Westminster" and wanted a referendum for independence for Scotland. Seems to me that the SNP are as partisan as the Westminster government. Think Alex, you may well have lost a large proportion of the 20,000 potential votes in Orkney for "independence" with this decision!
More on the topic at All About Orkney and BBC News
Interestingly though - a couple of folk I know have said they now understand how it felt on Graemsay when, until recently, we would be without a ferry to Stromness on 3 out of 4 winter weekends!
*For those outside the UK a quick explanation - "domestic matters" such as transport, housing, social care, health care, education and one or two other matters are "devolved" to the Scottish Parliament which sits in Edinburgh. However the Scottish Parliament receives huge amounts of funding from the central Westminster government, but it makes the decisions on where and how to spend it. In Scotland therefore each constituency has an MSP (member of Scottish Parliament) and an MP (member of Westminster Parliament). Currently the Scottish Parliament is governed by a minority government of the Scottish National Party - SNP, who many feel are as equally partisan in dispensing their favours as the Westminster government can be eg SNP stronghold is in the West of Scotland, including the Western Isles, who get greater subsidies for a range of matters than other parts of Scotland, including Orkney which has been "Lib-Dem" for many years.
Note - Radio Orkney also have a page on Facebook - it's been a great way to keep up with developments of news!