SCOTS island communities have called on Nicola Sturgeon to intervene to give "urgent clarity" over the easing of lockdown restrictions and when they can reopen to visitors from the mainland.

Argyll and Bute Council leader Robin Currie has told the First Minister in a letter that it is "deeply disappointing" that after two updates on the easing of lockdown restrictions - island communities "remain in the dark" over how this affects them.

Businesses say the Scottish Government’s failure to provide a date for when travel to and from the islands can resume has triggered a “wave of cancellations” from visitors.

Now Mr Currie has called on the First Minister to give clear information so that islands can plan for the future.

Curbs on mainland travel are due to be end on April 26 but ministers have yet to announce when this will cover the islands, because of fears of increasing their low Covid-19 rates.

Ms Sturgeon minister Nicola Sturgeon last month outlined indicative dates for easing lockdown, saying she hoped all parts of Scotland currently in level four - all of the mainland and some island communities - would move to a “modified level three”.

The the island communities currently under level three restrictions would drop to level two.

Travel within all of mainland Scotland was expected to be permitted from April 26.

But last month she said: “However, if restrictions on socialising and hospitality are relaxed more quickly and significantly on the islands, there may be a need to retain some restrictions on travel to and from the mainland – to protect island communities from the importation of new cases.

“Rather than impose that decision now on our island communities, we intend to discuss it directly with them to determine what arrangements they consider will work best for their circumstances.”


Mr Currie told Mrs Sturgeon: "Following your first announcement on March 16 about plans to exit lockdown, I wrote to the Scottish Government highlighting the questions and concerns of our island communities who had been left unsure, uncertain and completely unable to plan for the future –unlike the rest of Scotland.

READ MORE: 'Civil war' breaks out over arrival of tourists to islands

"I was able to meet with Aileen Campbell MSP, in her role as Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, within a few days and set out the need for fairness and clarity for our islands in terms of updates about changes to restrictions.

"However, even after the second announcement on March 30, there was still no update for our islands. And now, over a week later, and despite updates in the interim about the reopening of schools, they’re still waiting – and it’s not acceptable.

"Just like everyone else, the people on our islands are desperate to know when they can reconnect with family and friends. Island businesses are equally frantic to know when and how they can make plans for the weeks ahead.

"But, unlike everyone else, our islands are at a complete disadvantage. They still don’t know what is happening, or when. They deserve better.

"The Scottish Government needs to respond to our islands’ call for clarity and let them, like the rest of the country, start to think and plan ahead."

Island hospitality businesses are demanding clarity on the easing of travel restrictions, with up to a third of businesses saying they are ‘unlikely to survive an extension to the ban on visitors’.

Last week, the Scottish Tourism Alliance which represents hundreds of island businesses said its members had already suffered a "wave of cancellations".

CalMac, which operates ferries to the Hebrides, has said it would continue operating at an average of 35 per cent of normal capacity because of distancing requirements.

Increased sailings under its summer timetable start on April 26, a month later than normal.

Last week, Rob McKinnon, chief executive of Outer Hebrides Tourism, said: “The government has commenced a consultation to gather opinions on alternative proposals that would allow islanders have more freedom internally, but critically would ban non-essential travel between the mainland and the islands.

“Tourism businesses from across the island groups met [last Thursday] to demand a level playing field from the Scottish Government on arrangements to end Scotland’s lockdown. The approach taken has already caused unnecessary confusion and millions of pounds of damage.

“A failure to provide any robust reasons why the islands have been selected for special treatment, against a background of falling case numbers, major progress with vaccinations is adding to frustrations. We are told that arrangements in place for the mainland are not safe for the islands, despite operating successfully on the islands last summer without widespread transmission between the local and visitor populations.

“We are calling for the government to end its discrimination against our islands and urgently clarify arrangements for opening of the Scottish islands.”