Two of the Shetland and Orkney parliamentary candidates are at loggerheads over what the road equivalent tariff (RET) ferry fares could mean for the isles, if it were ever introduced.
Liberal Democrat candidate Alistair Carmichael has described the exclusion of ferry services to Orkney and Shetland from RET as “unjustifiable”.
His comments came as the Scottish government announced the inclusion of ferry services in the Firth of Clyde in the scheme resulting in cuts of 55 per cent for a single car ticket.
But SNP parliamentary candidate Danus Skene said Mr Carmichael “should do his sums” before demanding RET, which links ferry fares to the cost of travelling the equivalent distance on land.
Mr Carmichael has always been in favour of RET for the Northern Isles. He said: “Ferry services to almost every other island community will have this advantage apart from those to Orkney and Shetland. That is unjustifiable on any view.
“Local people will have heard everything that the transport minister said when he launched the scheme. He spoke about the importance of lifeline ferry services and the benefits that would come for local tourism and other industries from RET.
“He is quite right about this so why are Orkney and Shetland to be treated differently? Are our tourist businesses less deserving of support?
“MSPs Tavish Scott and Liam McArthur have fought for this since the SNP first started this discrimination in 2007. Throughout that time the SNP list MSPs that are supposed to represent us have stayed silent.
“Local people realise that they can not rely on the SNP to stand up for them.”
However Mr Skene said Mr Carmichael should not get over-excited about the absence of RET in Orkney and Shetland.
Mr Skene said: “Alistair Carmichael and the LibDems are having a good moan again that some island ferry fares in the west of Scotland are about to be brought down by application of RET. Why are the Northern Isles being excluded?
“They should do some arithmetic. The answer is that if RET were applied to the Northern Isles ferries over which the Scottish government has any control – the NorthLink services – then the costs would go up. Transport Scotland is explicitly clear about this.
“The Scottish government has no intention of misapplying the principles of RET, designed to moderate the very high mile-for-mile ferry rates in the west [of Scotland] so as to disadvantage the Northern Isles.”
Minister for transport and islands MSP Derek McKay said: “I’m well aware of the crucial role our lifeline ferry services play for the communities they serve, so I’m delighted to confirm that the RET roll-out [in the Firth of Clyde] will bring significant fare reductions for passengers.
“The roll-out of RET on other routes has been a real success, bringing benefits to local economies and boosting the tourist trade, so I’m sure this will come as welcome news to locals and visitors.”