When is an island not an island? When it is connected to the mainland by a bridge.

Or at least that is the view of SNP MSP John Mason, who has questioned whether Skye is a "real island" and therefore whether it should be included in Scottish Government legislation that aims to help Scotland's islands.

The Glasgow Shettleston representative provoked incredulity even within his own party when he made the claim while Holyrood's rural economy committee was examining the Islands Bill.

He said: “Was it unanimous that something like Skye should be included? It says that bridges are ignored, but surely Skye doesn't have the problems of ferries and transport which real islands do?"

The dictionary definition defines an island as "a piece of land completely surrounded by water".

And the legislation defines an island as "a naturally formed area of land which is surrounded on all sides by the sea (ignoring artificial structures such as bridges) and above water at high tide". The 2011 census also listed Skye as an inhabited island.

But Mr Mason has echoed similar views during a debate on island communities last year in which he said Skye "cannot be an island because it now has a bridge to the mainland".

Visit Scotland's take on Skye

Skye SNP MSP Kate Forbes was among those who dismissed his utterance saying: “I am sure that John knows that Skye is a real island, just as Glasgow is a real city. I certainly cross water to get there. Otherwise we would have to rewrite the Skye Boat Song.

“Ferry and transport problems are the tip of the iceberg, and there is a huge amount of work to do on the roads infrastructure for tourism, not to mention affordable housing and connectivity.

“That’s why I’m so pleased the Scottish Government is bringing forward the Islands Bill, as it will make a huge difference to places like Skye."

Portree resident Ronald MacDonald who is an independent Highland councillor added: "To paraphrase a well-known aphorism: if it looks like an island, has an effective endless coastline as its perimeter and half a million tourists visit every year because of its iconic status then it surely must be an island.

HeraldScotland: Tourist visit The Storr on the Isle of Skye Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

"More seriously, Skye folk are steeped in mythology and recognise a new myth at first sight. The astronomical distribution rates that both business and families pay on Skye for the delivery of goods and services are island rates. If our status as an island has some-how mythically changed perhaps Mr Mason would kindly let the distribution companies know since their rates are such an important drag on the local economy!"

Fellow Highland councillor John Finlayson, who also lives on Skye was "surprised" by Mr Mason's comments saying: "A piece of infrastructure does not take away the intrinsic and historical culture that has always made Skye an island. If the principle Mr Mason uses, suggest that a bridge means taking away an island’s status, then Scandinavia will have very few islands left in terms of his criteria."

Skye resident SNP Highland councillor Calum MacLeod, worked on the Skye ferry before they build the bridge connecting the mainland village of Kyle of Lochalsh to the village of Kyleakin on Skye in 1995.

He also scratched his head Mr Mason's definition, saying: "Skye's history goes back a long long way and we have a very rich tapestry of cultural history and I think part of that has been born out of being an island and I don't think you can just pretend that hasn't happened over thousands of years. You can't say that after 20 odd years since there was a bridge built all of a sudden our culture, our history, our traditions has changed.

"For Skye to progress in the future, it really needs to be recognised, and have that special status of being an island."


Visit Scotland was clear on its position. Chris Taylor, the tourism agency's regional partnerships director said: “As has been well documented lately, the Isle of Skye is hugely popular among visitors and has often been cited as one of the most beautiful islands in Europe, if not the world.

"The fact Skye is connected to the mainland by a bridge in no way detracts from its status as an island, and a jewel in the Scottish tourism crown.”

And the rural economy committee convener Edward Mountain was in no doubt. "I'm sure we'll all agree that Skye is a real island," he told the MSPs.