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Protest in Lochboisdale Photo: Seonaidh Macinnes

CalMac has remained silent in the wake of the Lochboisdale ferry protest yesterday (Sunday) as furious islanders vented their wrath at the ongoing disruption.

With the prospect of June without a ferry being the last straw for many, a large crowd gathered yesterday afternoon to leave CalMac in no doubt about local public sentiment.

CalMac earlier said the redeployment of the Lord of the Isles to Islay would affect the least number of customers but this was little consolation for protesters or the organisers, the Lochboisdale Ferry Business Impact Group.

With banners and a pipe band, the protesters brought cars and even articulated  lorries to the show of solidarity. Collectively, they managed to form a mile-long queue.

Mary Schmoller, who chairs Storas Uibhist and is a leading voice in the business group, said that they: "have worked solidly for the last 53 weeks…and in that time…we have met our MSP at least six times and he's asked questions at parliament three times.

"We've met two transport ministers, five zoom calls and one face-to-face. We've met the deputy first minister.

"We've met two different scrutiny panels from the Scottish government, each consisting of three or five MSPs. That was in November and January.

"We've met the transport group from the government's consultation in April. We've had three different meetings with TransportScotland staff and we've met CalMac management three times.

"And we are now worse off than we were when we started."

Speaking from the heart, Benbecula-based businessman Rory MacGillivray, stated that: "quite honestly, I've never seen the morale in people so low. The people just don't want to talk about ferries anymore. They're sick to the back teeth."

He spoke of the problems for bereaved families "having to come home on different ferries to a lost family members, have seen people left in Uig with no alternativ routes offered, not just for an overnight, but for four or five days before they could get home.

"Personally, I have to turn the radio off when I hear the transport minister coming on because I'm sick to the back teeth of political points, going left and right of each other in the chamber, while nothing gets done. And I just wish one of them, once and for all, would actually do something rather than say something."

Gail Robertson, a member of the Ferries Community Board, said after the protest: “Just back from Lochboisdale, and all I can say is ‘WOW!’ Community feeling and strength was out in abundance today.

“All sectors, families and Islands standing together to show their support for the poor decision to remove the only dedicated vessel to Uist from us for a month. The impact this will have on all corners of our Islands will be huge.”

She praised the Lochbosidale Ferry Business Impact Group organisers for arranging the protest.

Condemning how redeployment decisions are made, Robertson urged that people email the Transport Minister, First Minister, and MSPs to explain the decision-making process will not be accepted any longer.

Meanwhile motorhome travellers in Uist were left high and dry over the weekend after CalMac blocked motorhomes from going to and from Lochmaddy from Saturday morning because of a problem with MV Hebrides' mezzanine deck.

The space for vehicles was drastically reduced because of the problems which led to CalMac bringing in a rule stopping motorhomes from boarding.

Jamie MacIntyre, who lodged a complaint with the ferry operator, said: "Are you compensating the campsites for loss of earnings? How was this decided? I don’t recall a community consultation? Have you been in contact with those with motorhomes already in Uist and told them they have no means of leaving given the dire situation in Lochboisdale?"

By 1pm yesterday (Sunday), CalMac ferries was telling users the issues with the decks had been resolved but that some customers who were disrupted would continue to be affected into Monday "whilst we reinstate" the decks. 

Speaking later, Torcuil Crichton, the Labour candidate for Na h-Eileanan an Iar at Westminster, said: "t is outrageous that South Uist is being left without a ferry service for the second time this year.

"It is not just reasonable, it is is vital that a business support scheme is set up to get the island economy through the Summer season. If not businesses are warning that they will go under by next year.

"CalMac have already warned that we face two more years of ferry disruption so the goverment has to step in and support island businesses."

Mr Crichton went on: “Businesses in the Hebrides will go under without a reliable ferry service. The SNP Government cannot deliver one so they should use the performance penalties they impose on CalMac to compensate island businesses for their losses.”

“CalMac has had to pay £4.454 million in performance penalties in the last 20 months. That money should be used to set up a business support scheme along the lines established during the covid pandemic.”

Business losses are easily measurable compared to previous years, the islands are a distinct geographic location and the local council could administer the scheme.

Mr Crichton added: “This is happening at the worst time of year for businesses in Uist, many of which rely on seasonal visitors.”

“Islanders estimate South Uist is losing £50,000 of business income for every day without a ferry. That is in addition to the chaos and inconvenience caused by the cancellations at Lochboisdale and , worse, the immeasurable damage to peoples’ confidence about travelling to and living in the islands.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar raised the case for compensation in the Scottish parliament after talks with South Uist ferry users. The call was rejected by First Minister Humza Yousaf.


Photographs by Seonaidh Macinnes 

(Torcuil Crichton's comments have been added since the article was first posted)