Chris Hanlon, Political Education Officer of SNP West Fife and Coastal Villages branch, tells us why the Rosyth-Zeebrugge Ferry Link resolution is calling for a deliberate consultation model to consider the effects of the proposed ferry link reopening on coastal communities.

Ferries are one of the essential foundations of any successful maritime trading nation. Look at Ireland, when they joined the EU more than 90% of their trade was with the UK but over time they have managed to reverse that statistic and now the bulk of their trade is with the rest of the EU.

In case you hadn’t noticed Ireland is an island. The lion’s share of their trade with any other nation by necessity must be travelling in ships of one form or another.

We’ve all seen the graphic of the myriad new ferry routes from Ireland to the continent since Brexit has left the rest of the British Isles so economically isolated.

West Fife and Coastal Villages branch of the SNP have a resolution talking about ferries on this weekend’s Conference agenda. It has been proposed as a response to the sustained, cynical, and performative attack on the Scottish Government using our communities like some sort of hostage.

Those in the Tory led anti-independence coalition, and their allies in the billionaire media and BBC Scotland, have been wailing and gnashing their teeth for well over a year with absolutely no care for the damage they are doing to coastal and island communities that rely on Scotland’s ferries.

We are very lucky in West Fife to have an MP in Douglas Chapman who has toiled long and hard over several years to breathe life back into Scotland’s international ferry links. It now looks like he has succeeded and we will once again have a ferry link to the continent from Rosyth some time next year.

Other communities however are having their voices drowned out by the deafening banshee wail of “Esssseennnnpeeee Baaaaadd” coming from the usual suspects.

The trouble with crying wolf is eventually the wolf eats you and all the sheep. The moral of that story is that those that tell lies like that, not only get eaten, but they damage the whole community with their lies.

They certainly make it difficult to make an honest appraisal of what, if anything, is going wrong and what might be the best course of action to deal with it.

I know from speaking to them that many coastal and island communities are even more frustrated with the current situation than we are and so we have brought forward this resolution to begin seeking solutions instead of pointing fingers.

Not that there aren’t plenty of fingers to be pointed, but it’s not like there is some SNP super-villain in an underground lair stroking their cat with satisfaction at the chaos they have wrought. Lots of stuff could have been done better by just about everybody involved but then who works in an industry where that isn’t happening almost every day?

Frankly I don’t care, pointing fingers isn’t going to start to fix the problem. I mean, what even is the problem, if there is one?

And that is the crux of the matter. There’s no solution that has much chance of success until you know what problems you are trying to solve.

So our resolution is proposing the innovative step of going to coastal and island communities, asking what they think, and listening to them.

I’ve long been a champion of deliberative processes like Citizens’ Assemblies, I drafted the Conference resolution that mandated our first one three years ago. Traditional public consultations tend to be a pointless waste of money, where a whole bunch of special interest groups, with an axe of some sort to grind, have the opportunity to flood the zone with their opinions, and then politicians and civil servants get to pick through all those answers with nothing to filter out their own confirmation bias. The results are often lacklustre and expensive.

What we are suggesting instead is that we go directly to the people affected by these decisions, ask them what their problems are, give them an opportunity to really examine all the evidence, help them weigh that evidence, and then come to their own conclusions about how best to proceed to meet the needs of their communities.

Evidence has shown that given the time and the tools to properly interrogate the evidence ordinary voters are more than capable of coming up with innovative and successful solutions to their own problems. Those solutions are much more likely to succeed because the communities involved feel a sense of ownership over them. It was their peers that came up with them and made all the decisions after all.

Let the self-interested politicians continue to bray loudly from the sidelines, it is time we let coastal and island communities take the tiller of their own destiny and plot their own course to a better future.

The example of Ireland shows that Scotland has huge potential as a maritime trading nation. After independence we could become England’s gateway to Europe and profit greatly from that status if we show the same sort of ingenuity Ireland has.

It’s time we looked up, looked to the rest of the world and our place in it, and began the work of investing in the infrastructure a great independent maritime trading Nation will need.

The Rosyth-Zeebrugge Ferry Link resolution will be debated on Saturday 8 morning at SNP Conference.