Another year draws to a close, another year marked by Scottish Citylink’s inadequate bus services for islanders travelling to and from the mainland. Concerns were expressed earlier in the year about the new ferry for the Stornoway-Ullapool route (Ferry capacity concerns for new Stornoway vessel, 3rd July) but of equal importance are the obstacles for foot passengers in getting to and from the ferry in Ullapool at all.
The bus service between Inverness and Ullapool is run by Scottish Citylink whose management shows an apparently wilful disregard for the needs of customers and for the impact of its poor customer care on the economies of Wester Ross and the Isle of Lewis.
During the summer months and at times of school holidays, festivals and other events throughout the year, it is not uncommon for reservations to be denied 24 hours in advance.
Some potential passengers will risk travelling north to Inverness in the hope of a cancellation or ‘no-show’, but how many others decide not to travel to Ullapool at all? Indeed does Scottish Citylink care to find out? There is no waiting list online.
I have great respect for the competence and helpfulness of most of the bus drivers but the poor impression which Scottish Citylink gives to visitors is an embarrassment for all those who desire a healthy tourist industry and a public transport service worthy of the name.
It is shocking that elderly people returning to the mainland after a funeral have been unable to book seats to Inverness from the ferry terminal, but this situation is characteristic of Scottish Citylink which seems to be run for the benefit of the organisation itself rather than for the passengers.
Finally may I point out that I have been unable to raise these issues with Scottish CityLink because complaints made by telephone, letter and email never ever receive a response or even an acknowledgement.
(Dr) J.M. Speirs
Siabost bho Dheas
Isle of Lewis
TALE OF WOE
I am writing this letter as I sit on a ferry crossing the Minch a day ahead of a flight I’ve booked from Inverness, as I can’t rely on my local air service to make that connection on the same day.
I am writing this also having been shocked to hear, the night before, of the treatment of elderly and unwell passengers sitting shivering in an unheated waiting area at Glasgow airport for a plane that would yet again leave more than two hours late, and costing the NHS an arm and a leg for the provision of a fundamental transport service to the islands.
I am writing this reflecting on the punishing and extortionate costs islanders face paying just to do the things that mainland folk take for granted - flexible, reliable business travel; travelling to see friends and family, enjoying holidays and breaks.
I am writing this reading the detail of the revelation that a Flybe/Loganair aircraft serving the Western isles was found, on a runway inspection, to have a cracked propeller. A fact that comes hot on the heels of the company’s very public dispute with its own pilots as to the airworthiness of its aircraft.
I am writing this gobsmacked at the cheek of Flybe/Loganair promising an interior refit of its ageing fleet as figures revealed an appalling record of delay and cancellation to its flights, and as the news was announced that the Government subsidy for island travellers would rise in the Air Discount Scheme to 50%.
I am writing this reading about a new HITrans survey about how islanders use airlines - are they for real? Is that some kind of festive prank?
As a regular air traveller, attempting to use Flybe/Loganair’s services and needing something reliable as a means of conducting business from these islands, I can only look on at Flybe/Loganair’s abject record of failure and its constant litany of excuses, its pathetic inability to set its own internal systems in order, with utter contempt. Shame on them and shame on those who allow this all to continue.
Unlike this airline company, or companies, and the elected representatives, I really care about the economy of these islands and about the communities that need a proper, reliable and affordable air service.
Does this company think that the people of these islands will be fooled by a lick of paint when it is clear to all that the interior refit of this fleet of aircraft is like putting lipstick on a knackered pig? Which in any reckoning is more likely to fly that its own aircraft.
This complaint I extend to a Holyrood government that seems content to permit this situation to continue, dithering helplessly on the sidelines whilst maintaining a system of subsidy that seems to be nothing more than a license for a private company to grab more and more public money as it provides less and less public air service.
I note that all of this continues whilst the same Government is busy bragging about plans to cut air travel taxes, policies we are assured that will secure a boom in air traffic and for the economies of the Central Belt and the mainland cities.
Whilst meanwhile, the islands and the remote areas of this land witness an ever increasing sense of isolation and are forced to take to the air in a fleet of aircraft whose safety is at best disputed, and which should be in a museum not on an island runway.
Well enough really is enough. In the last two weeks social media has been full of reports of cancelled flights and even more stranded passengers.
Flybe / Loganair should pack up their scrap worthy airplanes and clear off this and all other routes - and the Government that sits in Holyrood on its hands as this tale of woe continues month after after month should reflect on the fact that the people of these isles deserve and need better.
Transport as we now know is their Achilles Heel but the islands can’t wait any longer.
Isle of Lewis
It is interesting that a wealthy American, with Scottish Island blood running through his veins, is all the talk of America at the moment, with everything he says making the headlines, whether one agrees with him or not.
Having launched his presidency bid for the White House a few months ago, Donald J Trump – whose mother came from Lewis – has been embroiled in controversy all because he has the guts to say what others daren’t say, at least not publicly.
While we may disagree with him on banning all Muslims entering the U.S, we unquestionably endorse his sentiments that there should be greater and stricter scrutiny. Yes, and there should be greater and stricter scrutiny of those entering Scotland as well.
Although what he said recently, over a total ban, may not have been ‘politically correct’ it is becoming apparent that he is fast becoming the mouth-piece of what ordinary people - across his nation - are thinking and saying.
Whether you love or loath him, Mr Trump has to be admired for speaking honestly and directly on issues that have to be said, instead of rambling and waffling about what people generally want to hear – to win votes and hearts.
There is no doubt that his comments have hit the nail on the head with many ordinary Americans, over live issues they are deeply concerned about and which they want dealt with.
I sincerely hope this perceptive, robust, honest talking, plainly speaking American, whose Scottish ‘blood is strong and heart is Highland’ becomes the next President of the USA.
And if somehow he doesn’t make it to the White House he would make for an ideal candidate for the lesser grand office of First Minister at Holyrood.
I would happily nominate him, and at the same joyfully offer Nicola Sturgeon a one-way ticket out of Scotland.
Mr Donald J Morrison
Inverness, IV2 3HT
SACRED AND SECULAR
So called Christmas celebrations 25th of December has ever been a mishmash of the sacred and the secular, though Keith Fernie doesn’t seem to have noticed until now (Gazette letters December 10th).
There is no biblical authorisation to remember or celebrate a day we call Christmas, anyway September is the likely time of Jesus’s birth according to scholars.
Religious Christmas celebration is a mixture of tradition, customs and practices with some myth thrown in, hence the harmless Rudolph and Mr Claus for the kids etc.
We have Yule from the Norse word which signifies the cycle of the year, whose shrines were decorated with holly, ivy, wreaths etc and occasions of feasting and drinking. The period around December 20th to the end of the year is steeped in traditions and practices too numerous to mention, ancient going on of the Romans to their gods, so we have pagan origins woven into Christmas day and Christianity to wean the pagans from their beliefs.
What Mr Fernie is describing in the parade through Inverness city streets with the switching on of the lights with Santa in the procession to the Old High Church is negligible compared to what we have dumped from the ancient origins of solstice time.
EDITORIAL - Harris Tweed going from strength to strength
Good news for the Harris Tweed industry as a major expansion project has been announced this week by Harris Tweed Hebrides based in Shawbost.
The company is being supported in its plans by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) who will contribute £300,000 towards the £1.8m development and it’s hoped this expansion will create up to ten new jobs at the mill.
The industry has also been bolstered this week with the news of the three month festival of Harris Tweed for 2016 as part of VisitScotland’s ‘Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design’.
The Clo Mor Festival of Harris Tweed will take place from August to October and aims to celebrate and promote innovation in Harris Tweed on a national and international scale.
And it is the diversification of this product and its continuous promotion which has turned the fortunes around of this Island industry.
Now products made from Harris Tweed are seen as designer, exclusive and of high quality. In the past they were seen as old-fashioned, stuffy and out of date.
New products featuring everything from napkin rings to toiletry bags have helped ensure the material has a myriad of uses in the modern world and not just for making great jackets.
A clever and enthusiastic marketing campaign also means that these products are never out of the public eye for long.
Giving the public what they want and shouting about your product to the wider world is a sure-fire way to bring success, and in this case not just for the company involved, but the wider economy of the Islands.
Above is our Picture of the Week by reader Christine Walling who reminds us of a lovely autumn day, with this image taken in Flodobay, Harris in September.
She said: “It was so peaceful – not a soul in sight.”
If you would like to submit an image to this feature please send your picture to: firstname.lastname@example.org