It is difficult to imagine a number equivalent to one-third of Glasgow’s population thronging the streets to protest about anything. If they did, it would certainly be a significant event demanding the urgent attention of Government. A flurry of political activity would follow.

On Sunday, the proportionally equivalent demonstration took place in Lochboisdale, a name known to many but visited by relatively few. Should that matter? If Scotland is the nation of empathy and social justice we often claim, this should not be a numbers game. The strong should help the weak to ensure this cry of despair is heeded.

I am acutely aware that much of Scotland must be weary of hearing or reading about ferries and the travails of Caledonian MacBrayne. It’s not something that touches most daily lives. From afar, it blurs into a never-ending saga of vast sums squandered, ships unbuilt and levels of incompetence which no longer surprise anybody.

Insofar as there have been inquiries, they have focused on the Port Glasgow debacle and failure to deliver two ferries, now running six years late. That’s what the Auditor General for Scotland reported on in excoriating terms and various Holyrood committees have tried to get to the bottom of in the teeth of Ministerial and civil service obstruction.

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Up close, while all that is relevant background, it is remote from the urgency of the immediate problem. Islands on the edge of our small nation are having the economic life drained out of them by a crisis that is growing worse by the week, with no early end in sight. Failure to address that scandal is now on a par with allowing it develop in the first place.

What has been done to South Uist should be classified as criminal damage, though other islands may insist that the costs are just as high there. To summarily inform an island that its ferry, which has just returned, is being taken away for a further summer month is jaw-dropping. The refusal to offer compensation for the inevitable, demonstrable losses inflicted on businesses has been contemptible.

The latest Transport Minister, Kevin Stewart, went to Uist just a couple of weeks ago. Nobody really knew why. He had nothing new to offer except an unscripted assurance that because it had suffered so much over the past couple of years, the Mallaig-Lochboisdale route would be prioritised in event of further disruption. It took less than a fortnight for that promise to be broken.

Obviously, the problem for Caledonian MacBrayne is that they do not have enough ferries to operate the network and several on which they rely are now so old and overworked that they are prone to breakdown and extended maintenance. There are still more CalMac ferries in operation that were launched when Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister than under the combined reigns of Salmond and Sturgeon.

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For reasons never explained, the tried and tested formula of a new ferry a year to maintain the balance of the fleet dissolved around 2010. By the time of the ill-fated Ferguson order, they were already running to catch up. Once that went grievously wrong, it was blatantly obvious CalMac operations would become vulnerable to exactly the sort of consequences now being lived with.

Leaving aside the Ferguson issues, the charge facing Scottish Government Ministers and Transport Scotland civil servants who have come and gone is that, once the scale of the looming problem was apparent, no action was taken for so long. Instead, they decided to batten down the hatches and tell the islands to live with their problems until 2025 or thereabouts when new ferries will arrive from Turkey. This failure to act in that crucial period must be put under the microscope.

It is inextricably linked to governance of ferry services, by remote control from Edinburgh. Risibly, when the Lochboisdale outrage emerged last week, Mr Stewart pleaded that he had been in touch with the chairman of CalMac to upbraid him about the operator’s “communications” on the subject. This would have involved a call to Copenhagen where Erik Østegaard resides. The same court favourite was chairman of CMAL, the infrastructure quango, throughout the period CalMac wasn’t being supplied with ferries to operate.

Mr Østergaard has been entirely unheard of in his CalMac role with the hapless managing director left to field the flak. Equally, the board of CalMac is conveniently anonymous. It contains nobody from an island community, only trusted Scottish Government quangoteers, living at a safe distance from the action and knowing where their loyalties, and next appointments, lie. The other three non-executives are Grant Macrae, Tim Ingram and Sharon O’Connor – none with an island connection other than being a CalMac director.

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This is no abstract democratic outrage. It has ensured that throughout the developing crisis, there has been nobody within CalMac to speak for the islands. By the same token, Transport Ministers who come and go have no island interest – the current one is a former Aberdeen councillor. His predecessor represents Linlithgow and the one before that, Angus – each more useless than the one before. Devolution and supposed “island-proofing” of Scottish Government actions have delivered only the arrogance of internal Scottish colonialism.

The Scottish Government has just committed to spending £5 million on consultants to advise on the next contract to run west coast ferry services. The need for radical overhaul cannot now be evaded. Transport Scotland civil servants will fight tooth and nail to keep control through their acquiescent boards. Other voices must insist that this is the one opportunity to change the whole governance structure and relocate it to places which have suffered so much under the current catastrophic regime.

Meantime, the islands will continue to suffer – but no longer in silence for I doubt if the Lochboisdale protest will be the last. With so much to answer for, how can the Scottish Government continue to deny the case for compensation? That question should be put to the test at Holyrood without delay and let’s see where loyalties lie.