ISLANDERS are to take a protest over Scotland's failing lifeline ferry services to the mainland - as frustration rises over a failure to act over disruption and withdrawal of services caused by breakdowns to CalMac's ageing fleet.

It is hoped hundreds will take part in the first of its kind march in Glasgow to support islanders' concerns over the impact to their lives despite a visit to one of the worst hit islands South Uist by CalMac chief executive Robbie Drummond last week - described by some as "no more than a PR exercise".

Organiser Rona MacDonald, a 55-year-old Gaelic arts officer who was born and raised on South Uist has teamed up with the Lochboisdale Ferry Business Impact Group to set up the demonstration which will begin with a march of over a mile from the Glasgow Gaelic School in Finnieston and end with Gaelic entertainment in St Enoch's Square.

Organisers are preparing banners for the march and it is expected there will be piping, singing and Highland dancing in what will be a three-hour event.

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A circular has gone to the Gaelic community to add their voices of "solidarity" with the islanders in a protest and rally "against the appalling way that CalMac are treating our island. It went on: "Businesses, families and way of life are under threat".

Demand for action has been increasing following CalMac’s cancellation of ferries between the mainland port of Mallaig and Lochboisdale on South Uist for the whole of June with local businesses estimating a loss of £50,000 per day due to tourism, imports and exports being hit by the cut.

South Uist has been consistently hit by cancellations to services through a CalMac route prioritisation matrix which attempts to place ferries in positions to ensure the least impact on the public.

The Herald:

An estimated 500 residents, 200 cars, 40 vans and 20 lorries converged on Lochboisdale - the port which links South Uist to the mainland - on June 4 to protest about the cancellations and CalMac chief executive Robbie Drummond made a trip to meet islanders last week to explain the decision. He is due to attend a public meeting tomorrow (Tuesday).

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It comes as a parliamentary vote on a multi-million pound fund to compensate islanders hit by disruption was blocked by the SNP.

The Lochboisdale Ferry Business Impact Group has been calling for a 'resilience fund' to be launched to support islanders who have been consistently hit by cancellations to services through a CalMac route prioritisation matrix which attempts to place ferries in positions to ensure the least impact on the public.

Ms MacDonald, who lives in Pollokshields said: "It is not just about business and the impact on the residents although that is a real thing for the people living day to day, there are also broader philosophical issues. "This is the heartland of Gaelic and Gaelic culture. It is what feeds us and gives Scotland an identity as well.

"South Uist is one place where Gaelic remains strong and people are proud of that. And if the lifeline ferry doesn't serve that island, the island the culture and the language will also die. And where is the Scottish Government in this debate.

"This is about making a stance. "The protests won't stop until there is equality of travel and ferry justice."

John Daniel Peteranna of the of the Lochboisdale Ferry Business Impact Group, which organised the South Uist protest said: "This will show that this is not just about how it affects islanders, but it also affects all those who want to travel here, and those who want to get to their home having been from the island.

"Nothing has changed since our demonstration. We are no further forward.

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"We have had a meeting with CalMac to explain the decision and the matrix method they use, but it did not make sense."

He felt that Mr Drummond's visit was a "PR exercise". "It is like someone has sent CalMac over to take the flak and to keep the natives quiet. It sounds like with summer recess of Parliament coming they feel the issue will just go away. But it won't."

Scottish Government-owned CalMac Ferries Ltd amassed nearly £12m in fines for poor performance since it took charge of lifeline services. And there have been growing calls for that money to be used to compensate islanders hit by the cancellations.

The bid has been rebuffed by the Scottish Government which points out that penalties are used to improve the resilience of the existing fleet following network failures. Penalties were said to have "part-funded" the £9m emergency nine month charter of MV Alfred from Pentland Ferries. The vessel cost the ferry company just £5m more to buy in 2019.

But Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government have so far been unable to say how much has actually been spent on MV Alfred or what other projects the penalties have been spent on.

Ms MacDonald said that she is going to the funeral of an uncle on South Uist before the demonstration and because of long detours due to the service stoppage and a "ridiculously late ferry", she will not get back till the morning of the protest.

The Herald:

"It is ridiculous in this day and age that is what we have to do."

The shortest trip from Glasgow to Mallaig by car is 149 miles and takes three-and-a-half-hours and the ferry to South Uist is three-and-a-half hours.

The alternative route involves getting the ferry to North Uist from Uig which is a five-hour and 13 minute, 228 mile journey.

And to get by road from the North Uist port of Lochmaddy to Lochboisdale involves a 42 mile drive which normally takes just over an hour.

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She says she has previously been forced to abandon the ferry and take flights to Barra, to link with a boat to Eriskay and the use of taxis to get to South Uist which involves a day of travelling.

"What has happened is downright discrimination," said Ms MacDonald. "It is so unjust and I don't think we are very good at standing up for ourselves. What has happened now is the straw that broke the camel's back. Six days notices and South Uist being hit again is wrong.

"What was surprising when I suggested this demonstration was they never thought the mainland didn't care. They are chuffed that we are doing something.

"We want a nice, positive peaceful march, with entertainment, showing off what Gaelic culture is about - piping and singing."

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We recognise the impact that delays and disruption have regrettably had on our island communities and are fully committed to investing in our ferry services. There have been ongoing technical issues with vessels resulting in delays to the annual overhaul programme and cancellation of sailings.

“We appreciate that every cancelled sailing can have a significant impact and continue to work with operators and CMAL to improve reliability and resilience across our networks.

“Regrettably there are communities who have been more greatly impacted than others and we fully recognise the need to improve reliability and confidence in services.

“Delivering six new major vessels to serve Scotland’s ferry network by 2026 is a priority for this government. Should there be cancellations to CalMac services due to weather or technical issues then a full refund will be provided to the customer. Ferry operators prioritise food supplies during disruption. They are part of the local resilience partnership, and remain in contact with local communities and hauliers."

Transport Scotland said that the First Minister has instructed officials to consider what can be done for business like those hit by ferry disruption in South Uist going forward.

“The issues around compensation have understandably been raised," said the spokesman. "We have not brought forward compensation as the money that is deducted from CalMac in terms of penalties and fines is reinvested back into the resilience of the network and we want that investment to continue to support resilience and help reduce future disruption.”

Robbie Drummond, chief executive of CalMac, said: “The South Uist community is understandably angry that their ferry connections have been cancelled this year, including the recent removal of the Lochboisdale-Mallaig service.

“While we have increased sailings on alternative routes, we recognise that the cancellation is an inconvenience to local people, businesses, and visitors.

“On Tuesday 20 June, we are holding a public meeting so that we can listen to the concerns of local residents and allow them to ask any questions they may have in relation to the current disruption to Lochboisdale services.

“I am confident that MV Finlaggan will complete annual maintenance as planned by 26 June so that MV Lord of the Isles can return to the Lochboisdale-Mallaig service from 1 July.”