The June edition of Am Pàipear is now available to view online!

We are thrilled to welcome two new members of staff to Am Pàipear! In this issue, we are featuring the inaugural pieces by Siân Swinton and Fiona MacVicar, who have joined us as Community Reporters. 

This month we cover the troubling news on both ferries and ticks, as well as the details of the new Transport Minister Kevin Stewart’s visit to the islands and Berneray residents’ fight to save the Mobile Library service. 

In cheerier news, we’re celebrating Lochboisdale’s own Emma Scott, who recently won Trainee Fisherman of the Year at The Fishing News Awards!

All this plus the latest from out regular columnists: Councillor’s Column, Southern Isles Vet, Hebridean Naturalist and of course the news from Ena!

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Wake up and smell the coffee

One way or another, the last few years have felt like a battle.

Covid threatened so much of what we took for granted and the subsequent economic squeeze is still playing out with devastating consequences for households, local businesses and our stretched to breaking point public services.

Despite the best efforts of the Uist repopulation project, the idea of ‘a new Highland Clearance’ is no longer an overly dramatic headline but a cause for genuine concern.

Budget proposals for the coming years set out that stark reality – £1.7m worth of cuts to the Comhairle’s service delivery plan and a further £4.1m savings lined up for NHS Western Isles.

Included in the Comhairle’s budget strategy are proposals to remove ‘four posts without backfill from secondary schools’, a reduction in supply budgets to provide classroom cover and reduced funding for Taigh Chearsabhagh, EDF and Fèisean nan Gaidheal. 

The fate of these services is in the hands of our elected members as they cast their votes in this month’s round of Council meetings.

Quietly, behind the scenes, vacant posts that have proved difficult to fill are removed from the establishment. The role of mobile librarian is now at the centre of a service review that could save the Comhairle £100k. The same approach is being taken by the Health Board as it considers whether to continue with the 24/7 consultant psychiatry service currently staffed by a costly locum. 

These service cuts aren’t some abstract notion happening away from our lives, they are real and felt keenly right here in Uist: the family of a disabled child struggling to cope without the care and support they need, cancer patients left out of pocket after ferry chaos impacts have clocked up longer stays and rescheduled trips, potholes unfilled and roadside ditches left unattended.

Another example of this quiet taking away is Loganair’s withdrawal of its fuel farm service at Benbecula Airport, leaving the Coastguard and the Air Ambulance without the option of refuelling here on Uist. On the face of it, a small move with, no doubt, plenty of evidence to support it;  aircraft refuelling isn’t something we will need every day, but as with a first aid kit, we will surely know its loss when emergency strikes.

And on top of it all, every passing month seems to mark a new low for our failing ferry service; what was once the pride and joy of staff and passengers is now the subject of national ridicule and local scorn. 

Bit by bit, as if by stealth, services are being taken away, standards are slipping and in response, we are slowly lowering our expectations to recalibrate what ‘normal’ is. 

So what are we to do? Sit back and bemoan our losses or fight for our right to be?

We are often told that we should not ‘talk up’ the negative; that doing so will only discourage new people from coming and depress those of us already here. But it isn’t positive thinking to ignore our current issues and sleepwalk into worse, it’s reckless abandonment. 

Talking about what’s wrong – shouting it from the rooftops if need be –  is the necessary first step on the road to putting it right.

For that we need a seat at the table, and without it, we might as well be shouting to the wind.

The Boards of our transport services have members from across the world, yet none from here; would having ANY local representation on the CalMac Board help ensure decisions taken about our ferry service do actually reflect the needs of islanders? I think so.

It is easy to feel defeated, to throw our hands in the air and resign ourselves to our reduced circumstances but when we do take action, we can deliver change. 

Our coherent and compelling case against Highly Protected Marine Areas resulted in a firm, publicly-made assurance from the First Minister that our waters would not be designated against our wishes.

And what of the ferries? How many different groups and individuals are fighting this particular cause? Our elected members are leading the charge, our community councils are putting up a strong fight and business and community leaders are making clear their demands. It remains to be seen if these campaigns will deliver positive outcomes.

This edition of Am Pàipear has other examples even closer to home.

In Berneray, residents have banded together to petition the Comhairle for the continuation of the mobile library service in the face of budget cut proposals.

The Benbecula Patient Participation Group (PPG) is fighting to get proper compensation for those left out of pocket after attending off-island medical appointments.

Our third sector organisations are pushing to reinstate our voice at the Integrated Joint Board (IJB) through the re-establishment of Uist’s Locality Planning Group (LPG), a forum which once helped shape policy on health and social care but is now no longer in operation.

These groups are not empty acronyms, they are our friends and neighbours, putting their time and effort into fighting for what’s ours. And they can’t do it alone.

Across Uist, there are committees and boards struggling with too few volunteers; we need more shoulders to the wheel if we are to turn things around.

In fighting to regain our losses we shouldn’t lose sight of what we still have.

Our local businesses need our support, and in all honesty, every Amazon parcel is another pound not going through our Uist tills and that will, inevitably, lead to closures. We need our businesses to thrive, to employ our people and supply our goods.

Project Uist is a job for us all. There is strength in numbers and speaking with one voice creates more noise and it certainly carries more clout.

What better forum for that strong collective voice than this newspaper, which has steadfastly been serving this community for almost five decades?

Work starts on new Uig vessel

It was all smiles in Turkey as the first steel was cut for construction of two new ferries commissioned from the Cemre shipyard under a £91m CMAL contract.

CMAL say that construction is progressing well at the yard, with the two vessels destined for the Little Minch still on target for delivery in June and October 2025.

The two new vessels will deliver separate, dedicated services from Uig to Tarbert and Lochmaddy, replacing the shared service currently in place. 

At just under 95m long, the vessels will each have a capacity for up to 450 passengers and 100 cars or 14 commercial vehicles, which CMAL says will increase vehicle and freight capacity and ‘improve the overall resilience of the wider fleet’.

If the boats do deliver to plan, they will be in Scottish waters just three years after commission, representing a third of the time it has taken to build the controversial Hull 802, which was commissioned in 2015 and is now not expected to be ready to take up its Uig triangle route before the summer of 2024, when it will be nine years and over £110m in the making.

Scottish Government last month confirmed its commitment to the continued build of Hull 802, despite the findings of its Value for Money review which confirmed that, even at this late stage, it would be cheaper to abandon works at Port Glasgow and start from scratch with a brand new commission.

The delay of Hull 802 is just one of many ferry troubles the Scottish Government owned and operated ferry service is facing. 

After a series of maintenance delays and service disruptions, CalMac was forced to issue its fourth apology of last month when their much heralded new ticketing system failed on launch, causing mayhem for passengers trying to book travel and retrieve existing bookings.

Opportunities to enhance ferry capacity are being missed, according to HITRANS and CNES Transportation Chair Cllr Uisdean Robertson:  

“While CalMac has already employed the fourteen staff required to crew the MV Glen Sannox, which is still sitting in Ferguson Marine’s yard, they felt unable to provide the additional crewing to reinstate  use of the mezzanine deck on the MV Hebrides, which had, for the first twenty years of the vessel’s service, delivered much needed additional capacity.”

Cllr Robertson has written to the new Transport Minister to highlight the opportunity of reintroducing the mezzanine deck, asking Scottish Government to cover the £816,000 additional staffing costs CalMac has said are required for the deck’s safe operation. 

In his letter, he said that staff costs would be offset by revenue regained from lost bookings, currently estimated at £509,750. 

“The net cost to Transport Scotland of reinstating the mezzanine deck would be £306,250. I think this sum is modest when considered alongside the further economic activity that will be generated from this traffic. Please reflect on the modest scale of this request as a means of increasing capacity and relieving pressure on the Western Isles business community, particularly our tourism sector.”

Cllr Robertson told Am Pàipear that in response to his letter, he had received a blanket dismissal from Mr Stewart.

In a further letter to the Minister, Cllr Robertson called for a review of CalMac’s ‘top, top heavy’ management structure and a commitment that senior management should be based in the islands and not in the central belt:

“There is little to suggest there has been any improvement in performance or outcomes in recent years, but the Scottish Government budget statements suggest that you have paid more while standards have slipped.”

No promises from Minister Kevin Stewart

There was plenty to talk about when new Transport Minister Kevin Stewart was in Uist last month for a day-long series of meetings.

The ongoing ferry crisis was, of course, top of most agendas, but also up for discussion was the the high cost of patient travel to off-island appointments and Loganair’s decision to scrap its emergency refuelling service at Benbecula Airport.

Accompanied by local MSP Dr Alasdair Allan, the Minister began his meetings in Daliburgh, where Stòras Uibhist hosted a meeting with the Lochboisdale Ferry Business Impact Group. The Group is campaigning to establish the right to business compensation and used the opportunity to remind Mr Stewart of the £700k losses experienced by local businesses when the Lochboisdale ferry was off the run in the Spring of last year.

Speaking for the Group, John Daniel Peteranna said he felt the Minister had listened, but that his position on financial recompense for struggling businesses was disappointing: “Scottish Government has previously closed the door on business compensation, and I’m sorry to say that Mr Stewart slammed it shut again today. His failure to factor in some compensation scheme has left us asking just how many millions we need to lose, how many businesses need to fold, before Scottish Government will offer us the support we need.”

The Minister and MSP went on to meet Council Leader Cllr Paul Steele and HITRANS and CNES Transportation Committee Chair Cllr Uisdean Robertson.

Meetings were also held with DJ Buchanan Haulage and North Uist Community Council, and the Minister concluded his Uist business with a meeting at Benbecula Airport with HIAL representatives.

Joan Ferguson, Chair of  NUCC spoke to Am Pàipear after the meeting, saying: “The Minister seemed genuine and while I believe he did hear what we had to say, the fact remains he is not prepared to agree to our requests on the reinstatement of the mezzanine deck or on compensation for business losses. The Minister says the budget they do have is needed for new ferries, yet £18m could be found for a booking system that failed as soon as it launched.

“CalMac has always warned us that it is going to get worse before it gets better but honestly, it is difficult to see how things could get any worse, we are already at rock bottom.

“People have now lost confidence in the service.”

The Minister said he had been very pleased to meet Uist stakeholders and thanked them for their constructive approach during meetings, adding: “Working to bring back confidence in our ferry network was high on the agenda, and I recognise the impact that delays and disruption have regrettably had on our island communities. I can assure passengers and businesses that I am committed to investing in services.”

MSP Dr Alasdair Allan: “I know those who met with the Minister were appreciative of the opportunity to highlight their concerns directly, and the Minister will have been left with a very clear picture of the impact continued ferry disruptions is having on local enterprises and the community as a whole.”

Dr Allan followed up the Minister’s visit with a letter to Neil Gray MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing, Economy, Fair Work and Energy, asking that Scottish Government support Uist businesses’ claim for compensation. In his letter, Dr Allan said:

“I am concerned that, while (very welcome) new vessels are still being built, we may witness the list of businesses closing their doors increase. Indeed, some families and businesses have already taken the decision to relocate to the mainland as a direct result of the poor ferry service and lack of consequent financial support.

“Both the previous and current Transport Ministers have rejected compensation schemes on the basis that they would draw money away from money earmarked to improve ferry services. Islanders, more than most, appreciate the pressing need for significant further investment in ferry services. However, there is a growing consensus that economic intervention is necessary over the next few years given the scale of the current issues and lack of short-term remedies. 

“I would therefore ask what can be done across government to engage with the Comhairle, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and representatives of key business sectors to discuss their proposals for a targeted, time-limited aid package for businesses impacted.”

Count returns between five and seven-fold increase

Local retired vet Graham Charlesworth has been at the forefront of tick research on Uist for many years. He began his first tick count in 2016 and has carried out regular counts ever since.

Graham has consistently trawled the same two areas – at Beinn a’ Chara and Beinn na Coraraidh in South Uist’s middle district – at roughly the same time of the year in 2016, 2017, 2021 and 2023. The trawl is carried out by dragging a large piece of white cloth along the ground to simulate a passing animal; ticks, sensing the movement, jump on to the cloth providing,  a reliable indicator of the resident population.

While his methods are far from state of the art, they are robust, consistent and credible and provide a unique picture of a changing tick population over time.

This year’s count returned dispiriting results, showing an increase in numbers of between five and sevenfold.

The relationship between Uist’s tick and deer population has been hotly contested but scientists are clear that deer do play a key role in maintaining tick numbers; as free-moving, untreated, large mammals, deer provide the required blood meal that allows egg production to take place. 

Given its three year cycle, it may well be the case that the large increase in tick numbers that we are seeing now is related to the substantial increase in the size of the deer herd over the last five years; likewise, we can expect to see a delay in any reduction in tick numbers as a result of recent herd culls.

Ticks and the Borrelia they contain are the cause of Uist’s exceptionally high rate of Lyme Disease, which is between 30 and 40 times higher than average.

The Western Isles has the highest rate of Lyme Disease (LD) in the UK, and 80% of those cases are right here in Uist. 

Local nurse Isabell MacInnes’s research into Lyme Disease in Uist has proved extremely important. In March this year, she reported the good news that Lyme Disease rates in Uist had fallen from 50 cases in 2020, to 30 in 2022.  It is hoped that the new upturn in tick numbers does not reverse that progress.

Earlier this year, Public Health Scotland asked members of the public to be vigilant against tick bites after Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBEV) was reported for the first time in the UK. Like Lyme disease, TBEV can impact in different ways, from mild, flu-like symptoms to severe infections such as meningitis or encephalitis which can be life-threatening and require urgent hospital treatment. 

A spokesperson from NHS  WI said: 

“Tickborne encephalitis virus (TBEV)  is not a cause for concern for the Western Isles currently. 

“It is rare to see any cases of tickborne encephalitis in people in the UK – from 2019 to date there have been four cases in the UK, three linked to travel in England and 1 to travel in Scotland (Loch Earn).

“Climate change does appear to be having an impact on the spread of TBEV northwards – but it is not endemic, unlike in Europe and needs to be brought to an area by another vector – usually birds, but also possibly pets coming in from Europe.  The reservoir and host for the virus is the tick Ixodes Ricinus (which is the type we have on the islands) but TBEV in the UK appears to be confined to very small geographic locations, as small as 0.5sq km.  And perhaps the Minch will help reduce the likelihood of the virus being brought to the islands.

“Prevention of tick bites, and removal of ticks as soon as possible when they do bite, remain the cornerstones of prevention of any tick-borne disease. If TBEV infection is suspected, the clinician can ask for the appropriate PCR test to be carried out; this is not part of the testing routinely carried out for Lyme disease.”

Meet the UK’s Trainee Fisherman of the Year!

The Fishing News Awards are a very big deal in the fishing world – hundreds of entries are submitted from across the UK in just 10 categories and competition is very fierce.

To be shortlisted for an award is a major honour; to win is a phenomenal achievement.

With that in mind, it was not surprising to hear the resounding cheer that greeted the news that 17 year old Emma Scott from Lochboisdale had been awarded the title of Trainee Fisherman of the Year.

Emma works alongside her father Iain on the creeler ‘Isabella CY 464’, fishing for lobster, crab and prawns off Eriskay – a job she started training for at the tender age of five years old!

Emma’s mum Mary Ann explained:

“She has always loved the fishing, it’s been her passion since she was a young child and it’s certainly in her blood, coming, as she does, from a long line of fishermen. Her grandfather Roddy Steele would have been so proud to see her pick up her trophy, as are we all.”

Usually quite a shy person, Emma said she had felt quite daunted by the prospect:

“There were a lot more people at the Awards night than I thought there would be. Although I was nervous, I wasn’t really expecting to win. It was a shock when they called my name, and before I knew where I was, I found myself up on that stage in front of 250 people!”

Asked how she felt about her win, Emma said: “I’m just grateful to everyone who voted for me, and to my dad for teaching me everything I know.”

Now that she has left school, Emma is working to achieve her skipper’s ticket, and will be balancing time on the boat with college courses.

Berneray residents call to save the service as budget cuts loom

In its March ‘Budget Strategy and Update’, the Comhairle set out around £1.7m worth of savings that could be returned from service changes and budget cuts. Included in the proposals was the following statement: 

“Review of the need for Library Vans, review of the service provision with a focus on digitalisation of services and the provision of corporate service points in all libraries.  Savings £100k.”

This statement, sitting aside the newly vacant Uist post of mobile librarian, led residents in Berneray to fear the worst. 

In May, a letter was sent to the Comhairle’s Education, Sport & Children’s Services Committee, setting out the importance of the mobile library service and pleading for its continuation. 

Signed by 35 community members, the letter has launched a local drive to save the mobile library.

Berneray resident Kirsty O’Conner spearheaded the campaign:

“We so value the mobile library here that we felt we must try and do something to save it. It has been a life line for many of us. If you don’t have a car or are housebound it brings a world of books to your door. 

“It’s not just the books, social isolation, a problem exacerbated by Covid, meant Donald Ewen was sometimes the only person some people would see.

“We understand the difficult decisions the Councillors face. Budget cuts are not easy to manage but this service really must be seen as essential.

“We have had a positive response from some members of the Committee, and from our North Uist Councillor, Mustapha Hocine.”

The future if the service is now dependent on the findings of a Member Officer Working Group (MOWG) review, which is chaired by Cllr Hocine and will report its conclusions to the Committee when it meets later this month.

The mobile library narrowly escaped being scrapped in December 2018, when officers proposed cutting the service but were rebuffed by elected members,  who voted 16-12 in favour of retaining it. The Council’s decision prompted investment in two new vans, one of which was allocated to us here in Uist.

Fifteen months later,  Covid all but shut down island life and the value of Uist’s mobile library service became even more apparent. 

A spokesperson for CNES said:

“A Member Officer  Working Group has been established to review library and information services. A report will go to committee in June and once the MOWG has decided on the future direction of libraries a full report will come to council. 

“The Chief Librarian post and mobile services delivery are part of that review.  

“The library van post has been advertised for 18.5 hours at the moment but will be reviewed as part of the deliberations of the MOWG. The review is important to inform the future direction of the service. 

“The appointment of a new Chief Education and Children’s Services Officer provides an opportunity to review the service. A decision will be made by the MOWG and the appropriate committee before any changes are made.”

The new Chief Officer for Education and Children’s Services is Donald Macleod from Lewis, who will replace Uist based Uilleam Macdonald following his retirement as Director of Education, Skills & Children’s Services.

The May edition of Am Pàipear is now available to view online!

This month we have all the details of our local vets’ fight to protect the St Kilda sheep, the latest updates on the Highly Protected Marine Areas policy, the Labour leader’s visit to the islands, as well as a rundown of the commerations held in Uist to mark the centenary of the SS Marloch’s departure.

We also break down the points of issue surrounding the ongoing ferry saga as the calls for action increase.

Plus the latest from our regular columnists: our Southern Isles Vet column addresses caring for newborn lambs, Mustapha Hocine gives his opinion on HPMAs in our Councillors’ Column and we have a fantastic Opinion piece by Sarah Maclean
of Outer Hebrides Tourism, discussing both the challenges and opportunities to address as we head into tourist season.

Click though to read all about it…

It’s never been more important to keep local journalism alive and well and we’d like to thank you all for your continued support of Uist’s community newspaper.

If there’s anything you’d like to contribute, then we would love to hear your feedback. Email us at:

Tourism challenges and opportunities

Born and raised in Lewis, I, like many others, grew up taking for granted just how extraordinary the Outer Hebrides are. I enjoyed the space, freedom and sense of community, but, as I cast envious glances at the wider world, I barely stopped to consider just how much my island home had to offer. As I’ve grown older and wiser and work has called me to promote – and often explain – the islands to many coming here for the first time, the full value and uniqueness of the place has become apparent.

The Gaelic language… Lewis & Harris are two separate islands but the same island… Sundays are different… the story of St Kilda… the plane in Barra really does land on the beach… yes, Bonnie Prince Charlie passed through… we own a majority of the islands ourselves… honesty boxes work fine in a community where you don’t have to always lock your door…

The points of reference that sometimes need to be highlighted or confirmed are many and varied, but all serve to confirm that this is a place unlike any other.

However, with a growing appreciation of the beauty, environment and culture of the islands has come a greater awareness of our remoteness and fragility. I’m familiar with the argument that peripherality is relative and are we remote if not at a distance from each other, our homes, and the ties that bind us locally? It is undeniable that in today’s global economy, mass matters and in terms of the centres of population that drive commerce, we are most certainly remote.

How often have we heard there are simply not enough people to sustain a school or justify a health-care service? We must pay more for our goods as the penalty for choosing to live at a distance from the dispatch centres. It’s unfortunate our ferry network is broken but we know there is always a risk on an island that the boat won’t go.

The current economic model of resource allocation and infrastructure planning unfortunately doesn’t work in favour of small island communities and, followed to its logical conclusion, the outcome is almost inevitable depopulation and economic failure.

I mentioned the intrigue the St Kilda story still ignites in those who hear it for the first time. As the UK’s only dual UNESCO World Heritage site, Hiort is recognised not only for its environmental significance but equally for its cultural importance, its history serving as a bellwether for dwindling island communities who could one day find the challenges of peripherality too much. As the 100th anniversary of the evacuation of St Kilda approaches, we are reminded that extinction is not always a spectacular mass event; sometimes it comes as the result of a selecting out of those whose environment becomes simply too harsh.

Our islands are remote, at least in economic terms, and we have significant challenges to overcome to achieve sustainability, but there is hope – for as islanders, we are responsive, resourceful, collaborative and innovative and I believe we finally have a collective appreciation of the value of our islands.

We are leaders in community asset management and renewable energy production, our crofters and fishermen benefit from generations of knowledge in working productively and sustainably, we recognise the dynamic between culture, heritage and tourism in a way others are just beginning to explore and critically, we no longer foster in our young people the notion that the bright leave and the dumb stay – instead teaching them that to learn and explore is essential, but home has everything to offer too.

Looking back to my childhood, I can recall curiosity and mild interest in the annual procession of ‘visitors’, usually only seen in the mid-summer months. The occasional back-packer or cyclist, extended family on a holiday back ‘home’, people with a work purpose or visiting friends. Yes, there were hotels and the occasional guesthouse, a couple of favourite cafes and small local post-office shops, but not much more for the passing traveller. Interpretation of heritage, history and environment was minimal, visitors were welcome but not particularly catered to. Harris Tweed was something to be worn, not crafted, there were no (official) distilleries or seafood menus and the landscape was the preserve of sheep and crofters, not photographers and walkers.

But as other industries became less viable, islanders awakened to the opportunities in tourism and over time, confidence grew: a few local artists opened up their studios, a greater choice of places to eat and stay emerged and a general renaissance of Gaelic culture through media and music helped to put the islands on the map. But of course the introduction of Road Equivalent Tariff in 2008 was the game-changer – a reminder to our politicians today of the importance of getting transport policy right in order to stimulate island prosperity.

In my lifetime we have seen the islands transform from a little-known outpost of the UK, suspended in nostalgia by some and slightly disparaged by others, to now being regularly touted as a must-see destination.

To my mind, the most important factor in this transformation has been islanders’ recognition of the Outer Hebrides as a place to be treasured and shared with those who truly appreciate it. Over time attitudes have shifted, businesses have invested and infrastructure has been created. We can be proud that tourism is now the largest element of the private sector here, supporting thousands of jobs and bringing millions into the economy, whilst in the main safeguarding community interests and cultural integrity.

But despite this growth and positivity, the shadow cast by the story of St Kilda looms. The Outer Hebrides, and Uist in particular, are facing acute challenges that will not be overcome quickly or easily; deep economic damage inflicted by the total inadequacy of ferry services risks exacerbating already alarming depopulation.

I would love to end this piece with an answer; a winning recommendation to move things forward in the right direction. In the absence of such insight, I will end by saying that although times are far from easy now and we feel powerless in the face of the ongoing ferry and cost-of-living crises, we must remember how far we have come and all that we have achieved. It is our people and communities that make the islands and our tourism sector what it is and we should be nothing but proud of the effort we have collectively put in over recent decades to build a successful industry that welcomes visitors from across the world and shares with them the beauty and cultural soul of the Outer Hebrides.

Anas Sarwar hears the case for Uist

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar was in the Western Isles last month with Highlands & Islands MSP Rhoda Grant and prospective Na h-Eileanan an Iar candidate Torcuil Crichton.

The Uist leg of the tour included meetings in Claddach Kirkibost, Benbecula, Grimsay, Daliburgh and Polachar, with business and community leaders setting out the issues and opportunities Uist faced.

Our failing ferry service was high on the agenda of those who met with the Labour leader.

At the time of the visit, CalMac was in the midst of another spate of confusing service disruptions and the issue was being argued back and forth on Radio Scotland’s popular Kaye Adams phone-in show.

Commenting on the ferry situation, Anas Sarwar said: ”People are sick of apologies, sick of warm words. It’s devastating these communities. The system is broken and the Government’s excuses are just not cutting it. The challenge I am setting myself, Torcuil and the wider party is to demonstrate how we are going to change things; how we are going to deliver an alternative.”

Mr Crichton believed that one unified organisation based in the islands would put an end to the ‘continual passing the parcel of responsibility’ between CalMac, CMAL and Scottish Government:

“We wouldn’t have got to where we are today if there had been island representation on the boards of the agencies that are meant to be serving the islands but are actually only serving themselves.”

Mr Sarwar said that in the short term, businesses should be compensated for their losses, but added that longer term solutions needed to be evolved in partnership with island communities.

When Am Pàipear asked the Labour leader if he saw cause to hope, he replied: “I am 100% confident that we can and will find a solution, but we need to be led by the community.

“Despite the despair, there is huge opportunity here, but the islands need a Government that is on their side.”

Mr Crichton added: “Thirty years ago, when I was a journalist here, the talk at a round table event like the one we attended today would have been ‘what can we do to make this place work?’ Now, the economy is actually bursting with opportunity; the place is running like a fair, but it is being held back by structures and institutions that haven’t changed in 30 years.”

The politicians said that meeting after meeting had highlighted the issues of a one size fits all Scotland, where policy devised in Edinburgh was just not working for island communities.

“HPMAs are a perfect demonstration of central Scotland policy designed in Holyrood with no connection to the islands and no idea of the impact on communities” said Mr Sarwar.

Mr Chrichton added: “Affordable housing is another example. The unit price Government allocates for social housing in Glasgow or Edinburgh is not going work here in the islands, where the cost of materials is so much higher.”

Summing up his visit for Am Pàipear readers, Anas Sarwar said:

“I had a tremendous week in the Western Isles. Over almost 200 miles of travel and over a dozen different meetings with Labour’s candidate Torcuil Crichton and Rhoda Grant MSP, I learnt a lot.

“I saw first-hand the incredible potential the islands have. But to unlock that future they need a Government on their side.

“I heard directly about how cancelled ferries mean missed cancer appointments, lack of supplies coming in and businesses in danger of going to the wall.

“I also heard how the HPMA consultation left people feeling threatened by an out of touch SNP government in Holyrood that takes islanders for granted. I got the message loud and clear – the HPMA proposals are not acceptable.

“Six years ago Humza Yousaf, then SNP Minister for Transport and the Islands said that resolving the Western Isles’ ferry crisis was a ‘priority’.

“Islanders are still waiting, the situation is worse and Humza Yousaf is First Minister.

“This can’t wait any longer. Millions of pounds are being lost, people need support right now.

“That’s why Labour has called for a compensation scheme while the ferry chaos continues.

“The challenge I am setting myself, Torcuil and Scottish Labour is to demonstrate how we can work together to deliver for you.”