FURTHER to the report by Andrew Learmonth in Monday’s issue (Public ownership being ‘actively looked at’ for yard), I would like to point out that, while the current state of affairs at the Ferguson yard is indeed a right bourach, this is a golden opportunity to show that Scotland is certainly not “too wee, too poor and too stupid” to find a solution to the problem and that the Scottish Government has the will and ability to make a timely political intervention (nationalisation preferred) to save a valued company, future orders and the present jobs and future ones.

READ MORE: SNP Government ‘ready’ to nationalise Ferguson Marine shipyard

The cost of nationalisation must be seen in the context of what would be the significant costs of closing the yard, of finding alternative employment for the skilled team of workers who are currently employed there and the opportunity cost of abandoning any hope of future work in this branch of shipbuilding.

While it is not clear what exactly is wrong with the new ships, nor to what extent has Caledonian MacBrayne been unreasonable, it must be said that three small hybrid ferries – Lochinvar and her sisters – are proving to be very satisfactory in service.

These have the same type of propulsion as the new ships will have, and it is strange that there have been apparently so many problems.

There is now no other yard in the UK with the capacity to build ferries of the size and design that the Caledonian MacBrayne fleet requires. In the first instance, Glen Sannox and her sister must be completed as soon as possible.

Isle of Arran first ploughed the water of the Clyde in 1984 and, good ship though she is, she cannot last much longer. As and when she goes, Caledonian MacBrayne will have no spare, large ferry and if there is a breakdown during a busy period, residents of the islands and visitors will be put to considerable inconvenience, with possible harm to both the tourist industry and any new investment in the islands.

Behind her there is a queue of vessels that are now around 30 years old and will soon need replacement. Hebridean Isles (1985), Lord of the Isles (1989), Isle of Mull (1990) and Caledonian Isles (1994) are all reaching retirement age, with Isle of Lewis not far behind.

Additional small ferries will be required to replace the members of the Loch class, dating from the late 1980s. It has to be remembered that Caledonian MacBrayne ferries are not summer-only butterfly boats but ships that face year-round operation in waters that are anything but calm, often with gale-force winds blowing. What programmes does the government have for fleet replacement?

The yard would also be able to tender for ships for other uses – for exampel, offshore exploration, cruising, ferry services elsewhere.

No mention has been made of any involvement of the Secretary for Tourism in discussions so far. Given the importance of the tourist industry to both local and national economies, it would seem to be vital that that department is, at the highest level, also part of the conversation.

This is not simply a matter of the closure of one shipyard. It is a matter for the future economic prospects of Scotland and a test of strength for the SNP government.

In the 1980s Mrs Thatcher wrought havoc on Scottish shipbuilding with her privatisation plans, pushed through in the teeth of opposition from the trade unions. On this occasion, nationalisation, it appears that the Scottish Government would have the full backing of the GMB.

Robert Mac Lachlan