ISLAND communities delivered an emphatic verdict to the Scottish Government over the ongoing ferries scandal, with the SNP vote slumping and bucking the national council elections trend, it has emerged.

The hit was felt in Arran, Bute, Skye, Raasay and the Outer Hebrides despite the SNP again finishing as the biggest party in the Scottish council elections with Labour finishing second and the Scottish Conservatives suffering big losses.

Delays and huge cost overruns in delivering two lifeline CalMac ferries - which delivery vital links and supplies to the islands - have caused a political scandal.

An Audit Scotland investigation found that the contract for the CalMac ferries was approved by ministers without normal financial safeguards.

It was unable to establish why the £97m order was given to the Port Glasgow-based Ferguson Marine shipyard without such guarantees as there was "insufficient documentary evidence".

The ships, still being built at the Inverclyde yard, will be at least five years late and the latest estimate of the spiralling costs places the price at £250m, over two-and-a-half-times higher than the original contract price.

In Eilean a’ Cheò, one of the Highland Council wards which is part of the SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford's Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch constituency elected a Scottish Conservative councillor for the first time ever, according to the party.

HeraldScotland: SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford

The ward which includes Skye, the fourth most populous island in Scotland and Raasay and other smaller islands saw a -4.3% drop in the first preference vote for the SNP while the Scottish Conservatives registered a 1.6% increase and with it the 'historic' election of Ruraidh Stewart.

On Arran, which has suffered hits to ferry services due to breakdowns caused by state-controlled CalMac's ageing vessels, Scottish Conservative Timothy Billings was voted on to North Ayrshire Council after seeing a nominal 19 per cent increase in vote.

Meanwhile the SNP saw their support drop by over 14.4% as voters expressed their frustration at seeking a new vessel for the island continually delayed.

In 2017, Ardrossan and Arran was one ward with three serving councillors - two who were from Arran.

The 2017 result saw Conservative councillor Timothy Billings take most of the vote share, while SNP councillors Ellen McMaster and Tony Gurney took the other two seats.

But in 2022, the results has seen a new Arran ward hold only one councillor seat on the island, with the Conservative's Timothy Billings holding his seat with 32.4 per cent of the first preference vote.

Mr Billing said the ferry scandal played a major part in the election results.

"There is much anger and frustration at the ongoing disruptions to Arran’s ferry service. Everybody living on an island knows that from time to time the ferry will not run due to extreme weather, but what we are now seeing is ever increasing levels of disruption caused by infrastructure failures both with the ferries and the port facilities." he said.


"Ever since I was elected as a councillor for Arran in 2017 I have been raising concerns about the reliability of the service. There has been a lot of talk from the SNP Scottish government about the new ferry and improvements to ports, but we know that the new ferry is already five years late and is not due for at least another 18 months. Every cancellation or delay to our ferry service creates chaos and every aspect of island life is effected both economically and socially.

"I am frequently told of the harm that is being caused to businesses from farming, construction and tourism, as well as residents having to cancel mainland appointments and travel arrangements. I personally know of people who have had enough and are moving back to the mainland, some of whom will be leaving jobs in health and care services.

"It is clear that the ferry played some part in my re-election as Arran’s sole councillor. However, that is not the whole story as I have been a very active and high-profile councillor for the past five years."

Meanwhile Bute elected its first Scottish Conservative councillor for 40 years while the SNP vote took another hit.

Peter Wallace for the Scottish Conservatives bucked the national trend by increasing his share by 0.5% to get be elected with independent Liz McCabe and SNP's Reeni Kennedy-Boyle. In 2017 Mr Wallace got 17.2% of the first preference votes and missed out.

Reeni Kennedy-Boyle for the SNP got elected with 25.4% of the first preference votes but that was a drop of 8% on 2017 when there were two nationalist candidates Jim Findlay and Robert MacIntyre who together polled 33.4%.

“The importance of a reliable ferry service was an issue that featured widely during the local election campaign, " said Mr Wallace. "These ‘lifeline’ services are of critical importance not only for getting essential goods and services to and from the Isle of Bute, but also for people attending hospital appointments on the mainland and visiting clinicians coming to the island.

"Tourism is also vital to the island’s economy and the ability of visitors to plan and complete their journey with reliable transport links is essential to Bute’s ongoing recovery from the impact of Covid.”

In the 2017 council election on the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles council) in the Beinn Na Foghla agus Uibhist a Tuath ward which covers North Uist and Benbecula there was a clean sweep of three independent councillors with the SNP getting just 13% of the vote.

This year, after boundary changes and a new Uibhist A Tuath ward covering just North Uist, the SNP did not put forward a candidate.

Benbecula ended up being placed in another ward with other Outer Hebridean islands South Uist and Eriskay which saw the SNP's Susan Thomson re-elected with 16.9% of the first preference vote, although independents ruled the roost with 62.6% and two returned councillors.

But in 2017, under the old ward of Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eirisgeigh agus Uibhist a Deas, which covers South Uist and Eriskay but also Barra and Vatersay the SNP with two candidates managed 48.2% of the vote and both were elected.

Scottish Conservatives' cabinet secretary for the constitution, external affairs and culture, Donald Cameron said: "The fact is people are starting to notice when it comes to ferries, who is standing up for them and who's letting them down. The problems surrounding the network have been known to the government and yet no meaningful action has been taken."