ELECTION 2021: Ferries problems high on the agenda for island voters

PHOTO: Willie Urquhart/WHFP

Held comfortably by the SNP’s Alasdair Allan since 2007, Labour came a distant second in the Western Isles in 2016 with just 25.6 per cent of the vote.

With an ageing population and continuing out-migration by the young, a registered voter roll of under 25,000 makes it one of the country’s smallest. However, at 130 miles long, the archipelago of 65 separate islands, 15 of which are inhabited, is geographically one of the biggest constituencies.

Tourism, fishing and the public sector are the most significant sources of employment and 10 years of austerity, the Covid pandemic and Brexit have badly affected all three.

Five candidates are standing for election.

Shaun Fraser hopes to improve on Rhoda Grant’s 2016 showing for the Labour Party. He is an artist who has exhibited internationally and much of his work draws inspiration from the landscape and character of the Highlands and Islands.

He said: “My priorities for Na h-Eileanan an Iar are to give voice to the islands and to resist the SNP’s centralisation agenda.

“The ongoing ferries fiasco is just one example of the failure and neglect which has come about after 14 years of SNP mismanagement. This needs sorted. We need a representative at Holyrood who will fight for islanders, not just sit on their hands for five more years and nod things through.”

Neil Mitchison has been a Liberal Democrat candidate in the Western Isles three times. He has worked for Radio nan Gàidheal and for the European Commission.

His priority is a recovery from the pandemic, with key ways to making this happen including innovative industries; empowered local communities; improved transport and broadband connections and a high-capacity electricity interconnector. He wants a properly resourcing Crofting Commission to develop crofting for new and young entrants and more investment in mental health facilities.

Alasdair Allan is back for his fourth election, and if re-elected he has pledged to take action on depopulation; the right of Scotland to choose an independent future; push for an interconnector to the islands; address the unsustainable housing situation in the islands; and decentralise more public sector jobs. His other priorities include the continued rollout of superfast broadband; the renewal of CalMac’s fleet; the examination by the Scottish Government of the case for fixed links to replace some ferry routes; and targeted support for the Gaelic language in the Western Isles

Dr Allan, who gained a PhD in Scots Language from Aberdeen University in 1998, served in the Scottish Government as minister for learning, science and Scotland’s languages between 2011 and 2016, and minister for international development and Europe between 2016 and 2018. He is the co-convenor of the cross-party groups on crofting, Gaelic and epilepsy.

In the 2019 general election Gavin Berkenheger secured 6,900 votes for the Conservatives in Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency and is now trying his luck across the Minch.

He pledges to “respect the clear decision” Scotland made in the 2014 independence referendum and opposes “any attempt by the SNP to take us back to another divisive referendum”.

He added: “I am hearing time and time again from speaking to folk that people want change, no more division and for us to chart a new and prosperous course for these islands. Better times are ahead.”

Former Labour councillor Callum Iain Macmillan is standing as an independent. A member of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in the 1990s for the Point ward, Mr Macmillan, who was also a business studies lecturer at Lews Castle College, recently resigned from the Labour Party and will stand under the ‘Time for Change’ banner.

He has promised to work with people from “different parties, beliefs and circumstances” – those he says, have been taken for granted by both the Labour Party and the SNP.