ACCORDING to the 17th-century English poet John Donne “no man is an island.”

His Meditation 17 is one of a series of essays he wrote when he was seriously ill in the winter of 1623, and in which he compared people to countries and argued for the interconnectedness of all people – in this case with God.

But now, according to some, not only can a man not be an island, but pieces of land entirely surrounded by water connected by a bridge or tunnel cannot be islands either.

The bizarre conundrum was raised last week with the publication of the Scottish Government’s transport strategy for the next 20 years.

For once, the strategy was bold and carried many big-ticket proposals that will do much to ease Scotland’s chronic transport problems.

A metro scheme for Greater Glasgow, along with rapid transport schemes for both Edinburgh and Aberdeen, will undoubtedly help ease congestion in our three largest cities while helping the country towards Net Zero.

Many other schemes have much to applaud, too, especially plans to build bridges or tunnels to some of the islands, linking them permanently with the mainland.

Given the recent problems with the ferry network, rejoicing would be expected to be heard all across the islands, from Lewis all the way down to Islay.

But it appears the idea has hit choppy waters even before it has been untied at the quayside after some islanders said they didn’t want a fixed link with anything and all they want is a reliable ferry service.

The Mull and Iona Ferry Users Committee said that a recent poll of islanders found that nearly two thirds didn’t want a bridge.

Despite the overwhelming majority, it is one poll that the Scottish Government should ignore completely and plough on, full steam ahead.

Taxpayer subsidies to CalMac soared to £149 million last year compared to £57.3m in 2009.

Repairs to ferries over the same period rose from £8m to more than £17m.

Ministers have already said they will invest more than £500m over the next five years to improve the fleet, which is welcome news for islanders but not great for taxpayers who have to foot the bill.

Bridges and tunnels would, of course, cost significantly more originally but over time would will be far more economical to the public purse.

Islanders will be free to come and go at any time of day or night, without concerns over the weather or whether the ferry will break down en route.

It would mean no more missed funerals on the mainland and hospital appointments can be planned without worrying about spaces on the ferries.

Businesses would also benefit hugely as delivery costs would reduce significantly and can be far more flexible.

But – and here is the crux of the matter – many islanders, though by no means a majority, want to remain cut off as it limits the numbers of visitors that can travel from the mainland.

Some Mullachs boast that Ben More on Mull is now the only true island Munro in Scotland as the Cuillins on Skye no longer count because it has a bridge to the mainland.

On a recent – well pre-pandemic anyway – trip to Harris, a farmer who ran two tourist companies told me that business was great but the island was in danger of being overrun with visitors.

The only thing that stopped it, he reckoned, was the lack of a bridge like their neighbours across the water on Skye. This, from a man who runs two tourist businesses, too.

Skye has undoubtedly suffered from having a bridge as tourist numbers soar uncontrollably.

The infrastructure simply can’t cope with the sheer volume.

But that should not be a reason for other islands to keep their ferries ahead of a fixed link.

The ferry network is owned and paid for by Scottish taxpayers and exists purely as a lifeline service for islanders.

They are not a taxi service purely for the convenience of some islanders.

At a time when public cash is in short supply and ministers face ever more competing priorities, the most cost-effective solution for travel to the islands must be the priority.

If that means bridges and tunnels and an influx of visitors, then so be it. The money saved in the long-term can be put to far better use elsewhere.

Scotland’s weather means that the chances of a 100 per cent reliable ferry service are impossible anyway so perhaps the islanders who are complaining should lower their expectations a little bit.

But maybe that is a bridge too far.