LIKE many, I’ve been enjoying the BBC Scotland series Island Crossings about CalMac.

I’m old enough to remember when the company was David MacBrayne and I continue to use the service, even if less frequently than when summer holidays were invariably spent with my grandparents on the Isle of Lewis.

Like all fly-on-the-wall documentaries, it’s providing an insight into the work but also the current challenges faced by staff and the communities they serve. Engineers and crew are struggling to maintain ageing engines and shore-based staff are having to juggle timetables and ferries around communities, all with urgent needs.

These, after all, are lifeline services and alternatives simply don’t exist. Something has gone seriously wrong in our national ferry service and it’s not the crews who are to blame. What then needs done? Well, firstly there are Scottish communities in need of ships and yet a Scottish shipyard is under threat.

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It’s not rocket science to link the two, not just for their mutual benefit but ours collectively. For it’s not just about securing the future for Fergusons, now the last yard on the lower Clyde, and where the workforce is ageing, but providing opportunities for other yards on the Clyde and elsewhere.

Contracts for vessels to plough Scottish waters should not be going to Turkey or south of the Border. Orders for future CalMac vessels must be placed in Scotland. Fergusons needs the work and is capable of doing it. The glory days of Clyde shipbuilding may have passed but the skills remain, and future generations deserve an opportunity in an area ravaged by unemployment. Even in the beleaguered CalMac fleet, the Scottish-built ships remain among the most reliable.

Expanding into the Inchgreen Dry Dock in Greenock, allowing increased space, is essential and if that means compulsory purchase of it from Peel Ports, which own Clydeport, then so be it. There is, in any event, a clear conflict of interest when Peel Port also owns the Cammell Laird shipyard. Not only does it have a vested interest in shipping as the owners of the Port of Liverpool but also in shipbuilding on the Mersey.

There’s not just an immediate need for ships in remote Scottish communities but one that will continue for years to come given the work that needs done. It would keep Fergusons occupied and on an enlarged site but also afford opportunities further up the Clyde and on other estuaries. To fail to keep the orders in Scotland would be an act of self-harm of gargantuan proportions.

But it’s not just building the ships in Scotland that’s needed – they also have to be the right ships. The problems with the Glen Sannox, and which will be faced by the sister vessel, is not the shipbuilders but the design. A contract signed off before the specifications were finalised led to constant friction as designs were chopped and changed, escalating costs and lengthening delays.

But fundamentally it’s the wrong design. Dual-fuel marine diesel/LNG engines are almost invariably shunned on this size of vessel. Compounding that, the infrastructure for LNG is still lacking and will be costly when it comes.

Even then there’s the absurdity of being unable to use LNG when embarking or disembarking in port meaning much of the Ardrossan-Brodick journey renders it a pointless system to have.

But an exceedingly costly one, as we’re finding out. It’s widely believed it’s not the design or ship CalMac wanted and it’s most certainly not what communities were seeking. Yet Scots do design ships and the yards and skills are already here as discussed above.

Dr Stuart Ballantyne is an exiled Scot now resident in Australia. But he cares about his native land, grieves at the decline in shipbuilding here and is conscious of the needs of communities. He’s a talented man who has built ships and continues to do so which sail in Australian and South Sea Island waters. If they can cope with the waters there, then they can manage the Minch and other Scottish sea lanes.

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He’s offered his designs to the Scottish Government for a song. Many communities have seen what he’s suggested and are eager to have them provide the service to their island. But the Scottish Government has declined that offer.

Why? Because CMAL, the quango culpable for the Glen Sannox shambles, doesn’t like the catamaran design he uses. But catamarans are cheaper to build, more economical to run, carry greater passenger and freight numbers and are more environmentally friendly.

This absurdity must stop. The Glen Sannox still hasn’t gone into service, and time will tell if it ever does, but to commission a similar design is simply foolhardy. CMAL, which procures the ferries for CalMac, should be abolished. It’s a quango that has failed.

Let CalMac and the communities choose what vessels they want. They know the ships best and rely upon them. Let’s use the design a successful Scot has come up with and build them here, growing our industrial base and providing a quality and reliable service for our communities.

At the same time let’s democratise CalMac (below). It’s shameful that privatisation of it was ever considered through the thankfully binned Project Neptune, which simply enriched consultants and offered nothing to the workforce or islands. Likewise having as the chair of CalMac someone who’s come over from a similar role at CMAL is wrong.

The National:

What’s needed, as the RMT, which represents the crew and shore-based staff, has argued, is a People’s CalMac. There’s something perverse that neither workforce nor communities are currently represented on the board. That has to change. This is a national service and those running it must include representatives of those who work in it and depend upon it. That would enhance the organisation without impeding upon the management of the operation.

Island Crossings has shown the ability of the staff and crew, as well as the needs of vulnerable communities. What we need are the proper ships for them that are built here in Scotland and to the design that those who sail them want and those who use them require.