THERE are islands and then there are double islands.

As Scotland prepares to reopen for tourism, it is the second category that worries James Stockan.

The leader of Orkney Islands Council has to figure out how to maintain lifeline services to what he calls “our double insular places, the ones that take two journeys to get to”.

His concern? The need for social distancing has reduced capacity on the ferries which dart between Orkney’s outer islands. And that means tourists who book could take the seats of locals who do not.

Stockan thinks islands – not just his own archipelago – are going to struggle as Scots and visitors from further afield start trying to holiday again.

Last week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged Scots to holiday in Scotland. But transport capacity may make that hard to do in the places where visitors – and their money – is most needed.

“We have some real challenges with opening up tourism, including boat capacity,” Stockan said.

“If we don’t change the social distancing rules, when tourists start travelling the locals may not get on the boats when they are needing to go to the mainland for medical appointments or other urgent business.”

The mainland he is referring to is Orkney’s, not Scotland’s. It is connected to the outer islands by an airline and a ferry company, Orkney Ferries. Both services would normally be heaving with people at this time of year.

Scottish Government rules mean passengers now have to be more spaced out and must wear face coverings – both on short hops to inner islands like Shapinsay and longer journeys to outer ones like North Ronaldsay.

There is no way to distinguish between passengers who are locals and those who are holidaymakers. Moreover, a local needing an urgent trip has no power to bump a visitor off a boat.

“It is a public service,” said Stockan. “If the boat is full, the boat is full. So, therefore, the more that tourism opens up, the more tourists will book ahead whereas locals won’t. If locals cannot get on the boat, we will have significant challenges.”

This is also true on the big ferries – most of the heavy lifting is done by NorthLink – carrying people between Orkney and the Scottish mainland.

Here, too, capacity is an issue because of social distancing. And that presents a huge dilemma to tourism businesses on the islands: will enough people make it across the Pentland Firth to make it worthwhile opening up?

Stockan said: “Social distancing on ferries mean we are starting tourism on a reduced ability for people to come. Businesses are now unsure how to start because they can’t open fully. It is your last few customers that turn your profit.”

Orkney is greeting all those who cross from the mainland with a letter, asking them to be be responsible.

The islands, Stockan explained, have a “ying and yang” of Covid. Their isolation makes them less vulnerable to the disease but more vulnerable to the cure, to the long-term economic hardship lockdown will bring.

Some Orcadians are nervous about tourism reopening. After all, some of the “double islands” – those off the Orkney mainland – have no real capacity to treat people with serious Covid symptoms.

This is not just an Orkney problem. Islanders across Scotland have expressed concern that ferry providers may not have space for locals and that capacity might be an issue for tourism.

Nigel Scott of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar in the Western Isles said his council’s position was that “priority for travel going forward should focus on island residents and friends and family living on and from islands, key workers and freight, while maintaining a safe environment for all”.

Scott added: “We are seeking further clarity on this and discussions are continuing with Scottish Government, Transport Scotland, CalMac and CalMac’s Community Board. There are obviously many issues around ferry travel and the Comhairle is of the view that our communities need greater clarity as restrictions ease.”

Camille Dressler chairs both the Scottish Islands Federation and the community council for the islands of Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna in the Inner Hebrides. She took aim at CalMac’s booking system, which like that of Orkney Ferries and other operators “still does not recognise the different needs of islanders and visitors”.

She said: “What we have heard from members is that in many cases, the pent-up demand, reduced number of sailings and social distancing restrictions mean ferries have been fully booked within seconds, with no possibilities for islanders to have places reserved for them when they have not been able to leave their island for over three months.

“This is placing them in a very difficult situation when they are having to travel for any reason, such as medical and dental appointments, essential shopping, collecting building supplies, and visiting mainland families.”