AS the long slow car crash that is Brexit Britain continues, with new border controls on imports from the EU set to cause further chaos for our businesses, it’s worth reflecting on our neighbours’ changing trade relationships with both the UK and Europe.

In this compare-and-contrast study, the Republic of Ireland comes out of the post-Brexit landscape rather well at this stage in the game although, living through such precarious times, you’d need more than a crystal ball and a pair of divining rods to predict what will happen next when it comes to the fallout of this UK Government’s blinkered splendid isolation.

However, so far, through preparation and a good healthy dose of pragmatism, the Irish have seen a boom not just in their cross-border trade with Northern Ireland but also a huge boost in direct sailings from Irish ports to continental Europe, bypassing the old UK land bridge routes to avoid onerous Brexit red tape.

The port of Rosslare in County Wexford has seen a 378% increase in the volume of freight to and from Europe, with a total of 44 direct routes now operating to the continent from ports in Ireland, up from 12 pre-Brexit.

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Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Scotland watches on as this independent country goes from strength to strength as a valued equal partner in the European Union. You don’t need a degree in economics to understand that an island nation’s financial success involves expanding export capacity and seeking new trading partners, especially those who sit geographically close to your own shores. Brexit illustrates the stupidity of the inverse to this rule.

And you don’t need to understand the intricacies of maritime policy to see that having your own direct routes to trading partners makes perfect sense economically in terms of domestic job opportunities, transport costs and sustainability.

And yet, Scotland has none of these advantages, hamstrung by the act of self-harm that is Brexit and a UK Government intent on keeping Scotland firmly in her box.

Historic Tory privatisation of our ports and the lack of any meaningful regulation and port expansion as a result has scuppered our chances of building our maritime capacity. Unlike the Republic of Ireland, we don’t have any state involvement in our strategic ports; they are all run independently of government whether they are trust ports, privatised or local authority.

Scotland currently has no ambitious, over-arching state-driven maritime strategy like we see in Ireland or indeed with our Nordic neighbours. And, unlike our Irish cousins, we have not taken action on creating direct routes to the continent, as lorries trundle from Scotland down to the south of England to wait their turn in the expanding log jam at ports along the English Channel.

Our ports, not just in Scotland, but across the UK are standalone entities. This is the exact opposite of established successful maritime nations such as Norway for instance, where the government sees the maritime industry as its priority, with its employment rate, value creation and spill over into other industries making it an important driving force in Norwegian business and industry, as well as cementing their reputation on the global stage as a major maritime innovator.

Given this stasis, it’s even more frustrating and indeed, unsurprising, that the UK Government stepped in to slam the Scottish Government’s Green Port proposals as an alternative to their own market-led, private, tax-free Freeport model, where Green Ports would afford a far greater degree of transparency and regulation as well as ensuring workers’ rights were protected.

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However, Scotland does have options. We should be actively looking to reduce existing constraints on trade opportunities via land bridges both for reasons of cost and the environment, but mostly to bypass Brexit chaos at ports in the south of the UK as Ireland has done.

For some time, I have been campaigning to re-instate the freight and passenger ferry link to Europe from Rosyth in my constituency. I’ve been in discussions with key stakeholders.

They include the Secretary of State for Scotland, our Scottish Government and representatives from Forth Ports and the Port of Zeebrugge as well as a Scottish businessman and former CEO of Norfolk Line, Derek Sloan, who has been developing a strong business case for a sustainable ferry service.

A ferry also gives us access to new tourist markets and, while Covid is currently depressing the travel industry, we must be ready to take advantage of an upturn when Covid restrictions have subsided.

In a recent debate at Westminster Hall on direct ferry links between Scotland and mainland Europe, I asked the minister, Iain Stewart, for a maritime support fund to match the levels of investment in English ports as part of the UK Government’s “levelling up” agenda and he has agreed to meet to discuss these issues and further plans

for Rosyth. However, given the UK Government’s mismatch of values when it comes to port management and maritime growth, Scotland must step into this breach and take control of this important economic opportunity ourselves.

Re-instating Rosyth ferries could be the start of an energised maritime strategy for Scotland, currently absent from our economic plans, with a minister for shipping and ports put in place to ensure we can make the most of these valuable resources in terms of job opportunities, the rejuvenation of coastal communities and to hit our sustainable net-zero carbon targets.

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This new maritime strategy could and should be Scotland’s “Moonshot” project in a changing European and global landscape, where public and private investment comes together to create a range of economic benefits in terms of connectivity and job growth as well as spill over into other industries as the Norwegians have demonstrated.

The blueprints for success lie to the east, west and north of us, with our allies and friendships across the Irish and North Sea. Given the challenges we face in terms of climate change, Brexit and the continuing pandemic, we need to think big and bold about creating a greener and more resilient nation.

Making the very most of our maritime capacity will be integral to any future success and essential to our economic strength as we prepare for independence.