“It’s killing an island, the incompetence with which the ferries are run.” Nothing surprises John Daniel Peteranna any more about the ferries South Uist depends on. The businessman turned protester has come to expect the worst. With a drastically ageing west coast ferry fleet, breakdowns are frequent and, as he sees it, inevitable – “like driving a 1960s car”.

“It’s not easy, living here, you need to have a pretty determined personality and the ferry problems make it harder,” he says.

“We as a community have no faith in CalMac management.”

In June, local anger at the cancellation of the Lochboisdale-Mallaig ferry for nearly a month reached such a pitch that an estimated 500 islanders turned up on the pier in protest. Their ferry had been put onto another route to cover a vessel that needed maintenance.

“Insurgency in the isles” would be too strong – no one is taking the ferry hostage (yet) – but South Uist folk have had enough. Much of the anger relates to the sense that real consultation with communities is illusory and that their needs are not properly reflected when CalMac make decisions about how ferries are to be deployed. Residents had been told it would be fine as there was another ferry service operating at the north of the island. It wasn’t fine as far as they were concerned: the northern ferry was booked up.

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Concern runs deep about the long-term impact these problems will have on the island. There are fears for the viability of businesses, that the disruption could be putting off doctors from coming to the island GP practices and leading young folk to leave. The government is seen as distant; Holyrood seems like la-la land.

For his part, Mr Peteranna would like to see all the ferry-related agencies amalgamated into one and for that agency to be headquartered on an island so its executives were affected personally by the state of the service.

He says he’d also like for CalMac to “listen to their customers”.

But he’s not holding his breath. Mr Peteranna, whose ancestors arrived in South Uist a couple of hundred years ago, has watched many different governments running the ferry service and his verdict on the current state of things is not reassuring for ministers in Edinburgh. He says: “We’ve never been in a position before where there’s been so much doubt and uncertainty about the ferries being able to transport you."

If the Scottish Government isn’t worried yet about the growing sense of disaffection in parts of rural Scotland, it probably should be.

The management of Scotland’s ferries was rarely a headline issue for the first two decades of devolution, largely ignored by the national media, but it has since blown up into one of the worst political liabilities the SNP government has faced.

The Herald: Ferries are a source of frustration for many islandersFerries are a source of frustration for many islanders (Image: free)

Two ferries sit in the Clyde, unfinished, more than five years late and almost three times their original budget, while stories of ferry cancellations in various parts of Scotland crop up with alarming frequency. A cynic might say that ferries have become, for the opposition, the gift that keeps on giving, but for those that rely on ferry services, the saga has left them in despair.

It’s not just the state of ferries that has people at the end of their tether.

The delayed dualling of the A9 is fast becoming another rural transport humiliation for the SNP. The Scottish Government committed in 2011 to dualling the road between Perth and Inverness for safety reasons by 2025 but in 12 years, only 11 miles have been completed, with 80 remaining.

Former SNP rural economy minister Fergus Ewing, the MSP for Inverness and Nairn, has fiercely criticised the delay. Last month, he told the First Minister Humza Yousaf either to commit to dualling the road, or resign.

He told the Press & Journal that after Nicola Sturgeon took over as First Minister, “the impetus and desire to do right by the Highlands” seemed to go, and “the focus shifted to the central belt”.

That perception could be dangerous for the Scottish Government, which is already fighting for its credibility.

The comparatively greater lack of doctors in rural areas than in cities is a growing concern.

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Family and hospital doctor shortages affect the whole country but the picture is worse in rural areas. Consultant vacancies are sky high in the Western Isles, Shetland and Highland, and not much better in Grampian, Dumfries and Galloway, and Lanarkshire.

The R100 rural broadband programme, meanwhile, has been beset with delays.

Does all this really amount to a pattern of neglect of Scotland’s rural communities? The Scottish Tories, scenting an opportunity, believe it does. They insist that rural Scotland has been “abandoned” and in June launched a campaign. They insist the SNP should dump the Greens from coalition, blaming the Greens for road upgrades and further North Sea oil and gas developments hitting the buffers.

Naturally not all rural dwellers will appreciate their priorities being characterised in this way, but the Tories are on safer ground playing on remote communities’ sense of being ignored.

The so-called Highly Protected Marine Areas proposals would have prevented human activities like fishing in around 10 per cent of Scotland’s sea areas, in order to protect key species that are in decline. But the Scottish Government has had to take the plans back to the drawing board following a furious backlash, particularly from island communities. Kate Forbes even made it a dividing line during the SNP leadership campaign. Local campaigners accuse minister of failing to give due weight to community concerns.

Scottish Labour is also leaning into the idea that the SNP is out of touch with rural communities. It highlights the number of households in rural poverty.

The Scottish Government can point to things like the first National Islands Plan, currently being reviewed, and the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (helping projects under pressure from rising visitor numbers) as evidence of its commitment to rural Scotland.

But the sense that remoter areas are being overlooked by a government with urban sensibilities is gaining traction. Five hundred South Uist islanders protesting their ferry’s cancellation might be just the beginning.