Scottish Government say RET on Pentland Firth routes would ‘distort the market’

26 Jul 2023

Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur has lambasted the Scottish Government for ‘washing its hands’ of its commitment to RET, after the Transport Minister Fiona Hyslop declared that introducing RET on the Pentland Firth would be ‘distorting the market’ under UK subsidy control rules.

RET was first introduced on west coast routes in 2008, and SNP ministers have long promised to extend it to Northern Isles routes. Indeed, as Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf committed to a date of June 2018, which was delayed in the face of a legal challenge and referral to the European Commission. 

While the challenge was unsuccessful and the Commission made clear it had no objection to RET being applied on Pentland Firth routes, the SNP government has continued to find excuses not to fulfil its commitment.

Orkney’s MSP has raised the issue repeatedly at First Ministers Questions and with a succession of Transport Minister over the years. In the most recent letter received by Mr McArthur, the latest Transport Minister, Fiona Hyslop refused to restate the government’s earlier commitment and claimed instead that UK subsidy control rules prevented RET being applied on ferry routes where private contractors operate.

Mr McArthur has now lodged parliamentary questions and FOI requests, seeking details of the engagement Scottish Ministers have had with the UK Government about any potential obstacle to introducing RET on Pentland Firth routes.

Mr McArthur commented:

“I have campaigned for RET to be introduced to Northern Isles ferry routes for fifteen years. Despite repeated promises from a succession of SNP First and Transport Ministers, however, all that has changed over the years has been the excuses. Now even the pretence of a commitment appears to have been chucked overboard.

“First we were told that the courts and European Commission stood in the way of introduction. After both made clear they had no objection to RET being introduced as proposed, it is now the turn of the UK government to take the blame.

“It seems equally unlikely that UK competition rules would prevent the SNP government fulfilling its promises on RET, given that the Transport Minister accepts they are not ‘materially different from the old EU regime’. Moreover, the First Minister has been quick to challenge the UK government in other areas of policy where he feels his government is being thwarted.

“The truth is that this SNP government never took the time to work out how to roll out RET fairly across the ferry network. It started as an election ‘bribe’ to the Western Isles and has been developed piecemeal ever since.

“Having made the promise to people in Orkney, however, SNP Ministers are duty bound to find a way of delivering. They have no-one else to blame but themselves and they cannot be allowed just to wash their hands of their responsibilities.”