People in the Western Isles have been taken for granted by the SNP government and must be given more control over ferries, the local economy and their own environment, Anas Sarwar has said at the start of a visit to the islands
The Scottish Labour leader said the CalMac ferry crisis would never have developed if there had been greater input for island voices and would never have reached its current depths if there had been "strong island voices, raising it day after day at Westminster and Holyrood".
Mr Sarwar said: "I am here to listen and learn but also to send a clear message. Labour will reverse the SNP's centralisation mentality which has sucked decision-making, resources and influence away from communities around Scotland. This is seen at its most extreme in the islands but is by no means restricted to them.
"There are issues of critical importance to the Western Isles and other peripheral communities which are of little relevance in other parts of Scotland. Unless that is understood and acted upon, it is most unlikely that the necessary policies will be pursued. Devolution was never meant to stop at Edinburgh but under the SNP, it has gone into reverse in order to centralise political control"
Speaking ahead of a tour of the Na h-Eileanan an Iar consituency with Torcuil Crichton, the prospective Labour candidate for the islands, Mr Sarwar lambasted the SNP government’s handling of the ferry crisis and the failure to act with any sense of urgency even when the implications became clear over the past two years.
Catastrophic delays in building two new ferries on the Clyde and the lack of a proper ferry replacement programme have led to an ageing fleet prone to break-downs and mainteance delays. In the latest hammer-blow, this has left parts of the Western Isles without a functioning ferry service over the Easter period.
In South Uist islanders are being offered a once in a week service for the next month due to the ongoing breakdown crisis which has knocked out three major vessels and left gaps across the Cal Mac’s west coast service.
Mr Sarwar said: “The SNP’s neglect of the islands and the ferry service is coming home to roost in a broken down timetable that leaves islanders with once in a week lifeline to the mainland. That is simply unacceptable.”
Torcuil Crichton, Labour’s candidate for Na h-Eileanan an Iar said: “The ferry crisis in the Western Islesa has gone from farce to despair. People are already angry that the SNP government has shown so little commitment to resolving the issue long before now.
Mr Crichton added: “The lack of oversight shows how crazy it has been that no one from the Western Isles was on the board of CalMac or CMAL throughout the years that this situation developed. The public appointments system has to be shaken and islanders must be given a voice in running the services that affect them most”
Mr Sarwar and Mr Crichton are due to meet a number of community and business representatives over the next three days as they travel through the islands accompanied by Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant.
Mr Crichton said: “Labour will listen and Labour will raise a voice for the islands.We will hold a Scottish government in Edinburgh to account and we will connect the islands directly to an incoming Labour government at a general election.