Islanders want more action and less talk from ministers

Paul Wheelhouse MSP. Picture: John Devlin
Paul Wheelhouse MSP. Picture: John Devlin
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News of a Scottish Government consultation in preparation for a National Islands Plan has been met with anger in the isles.

Islands Minister Paul Wheelhouse revealed yesterday that islanders would be asked to give their opinions on the challenges they face.

Mr Wheelhouse said the passing of the Islands Bill last year had been a milestone for islanders.

However, residents on Coll, Colonsay and Tiree, who face losing their crucial air link with Oban next month, say they are sick of telling the Scottish Government and Argyll and Bute Council what their problems are and want less talk and more action.

As Mr Wheelhouse was preparing his islands team to visit Scotland’s outposts, Tiree Community Council was halfway through its own alternative plan to set up a Confederation of Islands.

Tiree community councillor Ian Gillies said responses showed strong support for the confederation plan, aimed at giving ignored communities in Argyll, which has 23 inhabited islands, a stronger political voice.

Mr Gillies said: “We are fed- up being ignored and people not responding to us. They talk but they don’t do anything. You write to Government ministers and it might be a month or two months before you get a reply.”

Alex Howard, a spokesman for Colonsay Community Council, said islanders had written to ministers and MSPs about their fears for the future of the council-run lifeline air service to Oban after their last meeting, but had not had a reply.

When Colonsay suffered a 48-hour power failure, after the lights went off at 3am on Wednesday, all back-up systems failed. Mr Howard said: “It took 48 hours to get an emergency generator to Colonsay. Essentially this island was cut off from the world. You would have thought that CalMac would have sent out another boat, but they didn’t. We have been told the undersea cable is faulty but we have been asking them to upgrade it for years.”

Coll’s population has fallen to around 160 from 240 in two years and the school roll has plunged from 56 to six. Now Coll’s air link is under threat as Argyll and Bute Council has put the contract out to tender again.

Mr Wheelhouse said: “Our islands team will be visiting Coll this week and look forward to meeting people directly to discuss their concerns.”