MOST Scottish Government transport ministers have been friends as well as colleagues and, after his resignation this week, I very sincerely wish one of them – Kevin Stewart with whom I worked in SNP HQ before there was a Parliament – the strongest of recoveries and the best of health.

Being a minister is a pressured and difficult job. Stress comes with the territory, particularly in delivery portfolios. Constant exposure to difficult problems can lead to burnout, which is now made much worse by the vicious personal disparagement that currently passes for opposition at Holyrood.

It is exemplified by the sneering, offensive manner of Douglas Ross, although he is not solely to blame.

That corrosive atmosphere not only damages politicians, it undermines communities and causes too. When everything becomes ammunition in a political battle, understandable defensiveness can make solving problems harder.

The weaponisation of ferry services in Scotland is a case in point, not least because the root cause of the mess hasn’t been properly understood.

Let me declare an interest. As MSP for Argyll and Bute, I represented more ferry routes than any other constituency member. Not only was my postbag full of ferry issues, I also used ferries extensively. In fact, I have been a keen and regular ferry goer since I lived in the Western Isles in the late 1970s.

I therefore know that grumbling about the service is a favourite island pastime but what took place in Lochboisdale last Sunday was very much out of the ordinary.

Attention must be paid when one-third of any island’s population is protesting on the main pier. There is a huge amount of anger, and not just on South Uist, at the failures of CalMac, which are causing considerable inconvenience, individual distress and significant personal and commercial loss.

Of course, thousands of people are safely, and mostly comfortably, conveyed by the company every week. Nor should anyone deny that a part of the problem has been the failure to replace older boats quickly enough, exacerbated by both the fiasco of Ferguson’s procurement and unanticipated uptake as a result of reduced fares from the welcome introduction – by an SNP government – of a form of road equivalent tariff.

The clumsy separation of asset-holder from ferry operator has also been wasteful and the welcome decision to scrap that is taking too long to implement.

But that is not the whole problem, because CalMac is a prime example of management guru Peter Drucker’s mantra “culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Of course, new boats are much needed, but so is the immediate and permanent improvement which would come from eliminating the prevailing dominant CalMac management culture which has normalised failure and outlawed accountability.

That means action from the very top for it is no co-incidence that some of the banners carried at the Lochboisdale demonstration were in effect telling the company’s chief executive, Robbie Drummond, to stop apologising and start sorting things out.

CalMac’s stock reaction to every problem from a toilet malfunction to the shutdown of a major port is to give a bland reason but not a convincing explanation, still less a root cause.

Alongside what are essentially “don’t blame me” excuses, there is usually posted some soft soap about how the company “understands” how annoying and frustrating the difficulty is.

These platitudes aren’t worth the pixels they take up on a computer screen. The company isn’t having inflicted on it repeated but random acts of God that disrupt the otherwise smooth running of the service.

In fact, it is clear from the chaos surrounding the company’s annual refit programme that there is something far wrong with how it manages and maintains its assets in order to meet its obligations.

Nor is it the first time this programme has come a serious and damaging cropper.

Responsibility for, and honesty about these failures and the flawed internal culture needs to be taken by the senior management and board, including the nearly invisible company chair, one Erik Ostergaard, a Danish citizen and resident (and holder of the Austrian Gold Order of Merit and Knight’s Cross 1st class of the Order of the Dannebrog), who is often described as an expert on shipping.

I am told by sources inside the company that it feels like a place under siege. The reaction, however, is not to encourage new thinking but rather to close ranks, a response in which they are too often supported by Transport Scotland, a body also in need of radical change.

Regrettably, there has been no attempt to engage with or involve critical friends. I speak as one but when I applied to fill a board vacancy at the end of last year, egged on by some former constituents arguing for honesty and reform, I wasn’t even given the courtesy of an interview.

Whoever the new transport minister is will find the ferries one of his or her thorniest problems. The opposition parties, whose own record on ferry provision and many other matters has been lamentable, scent blood. But they are barking up the wrong funnel.

The part of the solution that is predicated by more vessels is already being implemented. What is needed now is to tackle the harder issue – a company culture in which sorry is the easiest word but nothing ever changes as a result of it.

A company culture which has failed to understand the need for open and accountable provision of public services offering instead many excuses but no explanations.

A company culture in which ordinary staff working incredibly hard to serve the remotest parts of the country are being constantly undermined by their management’s approach to delivery.

“The Earth is the Lord’s / and all it contains / except the West Highlands / for that is MacBraynes” runs a famous 19th-century parody.

Ferries are as vital now as they were then. To restore excellence to MacBrayne, the new transport minister needs to renew in it an almost 19th-century spirit of accountability and ambition.