Islanders on South Uist are being driven “to despair” by the cancellation of a ferry service and should be compensated for the disruption, Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf has been told.
Ferry firm CalMac has cut sailings from Lochboisdale to Mallaig on the mainland for the rest of June.
MV Lord of the Isles, the vessel which usually serves the route, has been redeployed to Islay due to ongoing repair issues elsewhere in the fleet.
At First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) on Thursday, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said a third of South Uist’s population protested earlier this week and were “rightly furious” over the decision.
Mr Ross said the government’s “failure to build a working ferry network” was “causing chaos” by “ruining lives, damaging businesses, costing jobs and driving islanders to despair”.
The Conservative asked the first minister: “Jobs and businesses are on the line because of SNP failures. So, will his government compensate islanders for his mistakes?”
As well as medication delivery concerns that could drive people away from living on Scotland’s islands, Mr Ross also highlighted the plight of Eileen MacDonald, of Doune Braes Hotel in the Outer Hebrides.
Mr Ross quoted Ms MacDonald at FMQs, telling Mr Yousaf she said: “Enough is enough.
“The island is in such a terrible way. Hotel bookings are down more than 50%.
“In 40 years of living on Lewis there is no vibrancy. We are in despair.
“We cannot be fobbed off with empty words any longer.”
SNP government ‘committed’ to more vessels
The first minister said the Scottish government understood the disruption caused and would look at what could be done to support businesses.
He said the system used by CalMac to determine which ferries are taken off to serve other communities has often impacted South Uist.
Mr Yousaf said officials will be visiting South Uist to talk to those affected.
He added: “Of course we recognise the disruption caused, not just to businesses but of course to island communities who depend on these lifeline services.
“So, we absolutely recognise that impact and that disruption. That’s why we are committed to, for example, ensuring that we have six new vessels in the network by the end of the parliamentary term.”
The first minister said he would keep an “open mind” over compensation and accepted it was a “fair question” to raise, but explained that it had not yet been brought forward because performance deductions taken from CalMac are invested back into the network.
He highlighted the £9m provided by the Scottish government for the nine-month-long loan of MV Alfred from Orkney-based Pentland Ferries to “bolster the resilience” of the ferry network.
Mr Yousaf added: “I’m happy, of course, to re-examine the issue [of compensation], but any such scheme would need to be carefully considered because it then would require a very stark choice to be made about those funding priorities.”