Lewis books plane tickets for Sabbath trip after objecting to Sunday flights

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THE Scottish council which opposed Sunday flights to the Isle of Lewis has made a surprising U-turn by booking tickets for its staff to travel on the Sabbath.

Western Isles Council vigorously opposed Sabbath flights to the staunchly Presbyterian island, which were launched last week by Loganair amid condemnation from church leaders.

But it has now emerged that the local authority has booked Sunday flights for its own employees.

Tickets have been bought for key staff on flights between Edinburgh and Stornoway in a bid to save money on overnight subsistence payments.

A spokesman for the council, which is also against public travel throughout Lewis and Harris on a Sunday, confirmed: "Staff will also now be able to attend Monday morning meetings. A number of bookings for Sunday flights have been made by the council."

"We opposed Sunday flights but we recognise there is now a changed situation. However, no employee will be forced to work on a Sunday, as is the law."

The spokesman refused to divulge how many tickets had been bought or whether the flights had been booked with Loganair or rival carrier Bmi, which is due to launch a Sunday service between Stornoway and Edinburgh today.

One of the few Western Isles councillors to back Sunday travel welcomed the move, while accusing the council of hypocrisy.

Donald MacSween said: "It is hypocritical but I am not surprised the council have made the bookings. I have always said that people would use the flights once they were available - even my own council."

He added: "The council’s position is ridiculous. We are against Sunday ferries yet the council operates a ferry on a Sunday on the sound of Barra.

"We are against staff working on a Sunday but we compel somebody to open up Stornoway Town Hall just to hold a church service."

A council worker, who asked not to be named, said: "It is a nonsense. On Sunday they were opposing these flights - and within days they are making bookings to use them. They should have bitten the bullet years ago instead of pandering to the Church."

Free Presbyterian minister, the Rev Angus Smith, one of the leading campaigners against Sunday travel, refused to comment.

Council officers often have to travel away at weekends for important off-island meetings, usually with the Scottish Executive in Edinburgh.

Because previously there was no Sunday travel to Lewis, where the council’s headquarters are, they had to stay on the mainland until Monday, leading to council meetings being missed.

Alasdair Nicholson, the SNP’s prospective Scottish parliamentary candidate for the isles, said he would "not condemn nor condone people using the Sabbath services out of need and necessity".

"It is up to people’s individual consciences if they wish to use these flights," he said.

Jock Murray of the Whaler’s Rest pub in Stornoway, who brought the first Sunday newspapers to Lewis last week, said he was surprised by the council’s change of heart.

"They are going back on what they said, but it helps show these flights are needed.

"I have been inundated by people wanting Sunday papers and I will have more this Sunday," he said.