AT the SNP conference this weekend, I was delighted to bring forward the motion on news of the proposed reopening of the ferry link between Rosyth and Zeebrugge.

The port of Rosyth in my constituency of Dunfermline and West Fife is ideally placed as a transport hub linking Scotland to mainland Europe, with this connection still in operation as recently as 2018. Now in the ruins of post Brexit Britain, it has never been more important for Scotland to re-establish direct trading and tourism relationships with Europe to aid economic prosperity and develop our export potential.

This new ferry service is an illustration of how we can create a more resilient and ambitious vision for our nation, one that’s rooted in internationalism and connectivity with our neighbours.

It’s about putting communities at the heart of our coastal and economic aspirations. It’s about reaching out beyond our enforced Brexit isolation to find new trading partners for export and import opportunities and for tourism.

It demonstrates Scotland’s determination and desire to tap into our rich maritime tradition andre-establish a new, contemporary and comprehensive Maritime Strategy.

For the last two years, I have been working closely with Derek Sloan, the director of Ptarmigan Shipping in Scotland and DFDS on this project. Together we have discovered a strong sense of public and commercial goodwill for the re-establishment of this sea link in both Scotland and in Flanders, with many exporters, post Brexit, keen to use a more direct route into key EU markets and boost trade with this new, cost-effective ferry service.

Scots have observed the success of new direct routes from the Republic of Ireland that now avoid the traditional “land bridge” through England for export at ports on their Southern coast. Unlike Scotland, the Republic continues to enjoy their equal status as an EU member and all the concurrent benefits of this relationship.

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But our ambition remains to rejoin this union of equals and there is much we can do to ensure that when this time comes, our physical connections are strong and established. There is no better way to do this than a direct ferry service for freight and passengers where Scotland, like Ireland, can cut out the middle-man and take our goods straight to market.

DFDS Seaways have an agreement with Ptarmigan Shipping to further evaluate the Rosyth route, with a view to start off with one RoPax vessel carrying both passengers and freight during 2023 on three rotations a week, and the hope that, subject to market support, a second vessel will be able to join the route, which will increase the frequency to 6 rotations per week.

We live in challenging economic times, with inflation and a looming recession plus high fuel prices all needing to be factored into the business model as well as issues around border control. Despite these issues, we do not believe they are insurmountable and remain committed to making this project a success.

Much of our transport ambition has been focused on land, now it’s time to re-examine our sea-links, for new routes to markets, new trading partners, and an opportunity to reduce carbon emissions through less road miles and congestion as well as enabling innovations in green shipping.

Interestingly, this new ferry route from Rosyth will be the only sea link from the whole of the UK that connects us to Belgium. It seems very apt then to be discussing Scotland’s ambitions for this new ferry service and wider maritime strategy during Maritime UK Week 2022, which aims to shine a spotlight into this sector and engage with people across the UK.

Maritime UK is the collective voice of the UK’s maritime industries and strong supporters of this sector as critical in growing our economy as we accelerate towards net zero, with well-paid, high-quality jobs around our coasts.

Coastal communities must be at the heart of the co-design and co-delivery of a wider Maritime Strategy for Scotland. When you look at the model of European ports, such as Zeebrugge and Antwerp there is a focus on local control rather than profits being creamed off by unaccountable private equity operators.

It comes back to my mantra of “Scots as stakeholders” in our resources – developing our own domestic version of a maritime strategy needs to be bottom up, with a focus on collaboration and co-operation.

With this kind of economic model, we could kickstart our maritime economy by encouraging 50 new start-ups to work across this sector, with a view to at least 30 of these scaling up and one brand new unicorn maritime business as a result.

This is about making our own decisions, deciding our own future, boosting our economy and opportunities for Scots despite the disadvantages put on us by Westminster. This is about getting ready for independence and making the most of our resources, putting people and place at the centre of a new maritime strategy for Scotland.

We need to develop the resilience, ambition and vision to re-establish Scotland as a maritime nation again.