I’m delighted to have learnt that Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) have signalled the commencement of Sunday sailings to the Western Isles, despite objections from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (CnES) and the Lord’s Day Observance Society.
The development was announced yesterday on Hebrides News.
For those not in the know, Sunday sailings to/from the isles of Harris and Lewis have been an extremely contentious issue for years.
You may agree or disagree with the whole situation but life will go on regardless. Gods can be worshipped by whomever and wherever they choose, a basic freedom of a democracy held dear in this United Kingdom as well as elsewhere.
Personal choice and freedom to choose is so important … parents help their offspring to develop in life with skills that enable them to make informed and good choices. Imposing a will without good reason will likely backfire.
The local authority CnES has always purported to represent the views of the populace but this has never been tested by asking that population whether or not they wanted Sunday sailings. Instead a significant number of councillors, plus the Lord’s Day Observance Society, all with entrenched views about Sabbath observance and island tradition, have prevented the economic development of the islands by stifling any possibility of seven day sailings. It could all have been resolved so easily by holding a local referendum: ‘do you favour the introduction of Sunday sailings or not?’. A ‘no’ answer would have strengthened the comhairle’s policy position, and a ‘yes’ would have given the comhairle a strong signal that it’s policy was not in line with its residents’ wishes regarding ferries.
The overbearing paternalistic stance of CnES and LDOS has certainly backfired on this occasion, and I – for one – am delighted.
The lack of a Sunday service has meant that, until now, islanders could not get to the mainland for a weekend away without booking additional time off work except if they flew (but flying is not always convenient or suitable), nor could visitors spend a weekend in the islands for the same reason. On the face of it a Sunday ferry appears quite a trivial point, but the economic impact on individuals and the island economy is significant and this decision will bring tangible benefits that far outweigh the entrenched view about sabbath observance (one which is not entirely accurate either).
CalMac said the decision followed extensive consultation.
The new service will initially follow the timetable of the Saturday afternoon sailing – departing Stornoway at 1430 BST to arrive in Ullapool at 1730 BST then leaving at 1815 BST arriving back in Stornoway at 2100 BST.
Chairman Peter Timms said the company had tried to find a way to meet its legal obligations and respect local traditions.
He said: “We believe we can achieve that by operating one return trip a day, departing in the afternoon and returning late in the evening. This will minimise the impact on the culture and amenity of the islands, while at the same time providing economic and social benefits. We remain acutely aware of the sensitivities surrounding Sunday sailings, but we cannot operate unlawfully nor fail to provide lifeline services when there is a growing demonstrable demand from the communities we serve.”
The comhairle said it was dismayed by the decision to sail between Stornoway and Ullapool.
In May, BBC Alba reported that state-owned CalMac viewed Sunday sailings to and from the mainland as “inevitable”. At the time the ferry operator said it had been told it would be unlawful to refuse to run a service because of the religious views of just part of a community. Pro-sailings campaigners sought advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
I look forward to being able to return to Lewis and to take advantage of the new, enlightened ferry service opportunities.