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The idea of tunnels linking islands in Scotland is gaining impetus among politicians across the spectrum, with a debate set for Holyrood this evening (Tuesday 5 December).

Shetland Islands Liberal Democrat MSP Beatrice Wishart has secured debating time in the main chamber at Holyrood tonight for her motion, acknowledging ‘the importance of connectivity in Scotland’s rural and island areas’ and suggesting fixed links across the Sounds of Harris and Barra, among other locations.

Ms Wishart’s motion proposes that the Scottish Parliament: “notes the recommendation of the second Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2) to investigate potential fixed link connections, such as tunnels, along ferry routes on the Sound of Harris, the Sound of Barra, and between Mull and the Scottish mainland.”

She also notes that a former Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, said, in January 2022, that fixed links on these routes ‘could improve communities’ access to goods and services and make those islands more attractive for people to live and work in and visit.’

Part of Ms Wishart’s proposal acknowledges the work of grassroots tunnel action groups, such as the Unst and Yell Tunnels Scotland group, who say that their vision is: “To forge ahead with the development of financially sustainable, low carbon emitting tunnel links.”

They say: “These links will not only bridge geographical divides but also enhance the prosperity and wellbeing of our island communities. Locally we look to the islands of Burra, Trondra and Muckle Roe, all of which have prospered and grown from the introduction of fixed links.

“In addition, we are inspired by our neighbours in Faroe and Norway who have been connecting communities via tunnels for many years.”

Coincidentally, two Westminster MPs were researching the state of play of these tunnels in Faroe over the weekend (1-3 December), viewing the Eystur and Sandoyar Tunnels, under construction by a publicly-owned company known in Faroe as ESTunlar.

On the spot to show the work in progress was ESTunlar chief executive Teitur Samulsen, who hosted the visit by Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil and Inverclyde’s SNP MP Ronnie Cowan.

Mr Cowan said after the visit: “With a population of 52,000 the Faroese have a magnificent mindset and their development of tunnels and broadband are the envy of many states.”

Mr MacNeil, a long-term advocate of fixed links between islands, said he was impressed by the engineering achievements he witnessed in the freezing conditions of Faroe.

Speaking to welovestornoway today he said: “The new 10.8km tunnel in Faroe to the island of Sandoy, population 1,200, will be the second longest undersea tunnel in the world. It will open to traffic on 21 December.

“But the Faroese are now focussed on a 23km tunnel to Sudroy and, incidentally we came across another land tunnel of 1.2km under construction above Tórshavn that they forgot to mention, as it is so routine!

“The construction costs for a tunnel like this are relatively cheap – a tunnel beneath the Sound of Harris would cost around £80 million, about a third of one of the Clyde-built ferries, and it would be open all the time.

“It seems a bit science-fictiony to us at the moment, but once the first tunnel in Scotland is built it won’t be science fiction, it will be fact.”

Mr MacNeil praised Ms Wishart for gaining time in Holyrood to debate the matter, saying: “They are getting their act together in Shetland faster than they are anywhere else in Scotland.

“It’s likely the first Scottish tunnel will be built in Shetland, but who is first doesn’t matter, just that we look at where we want to build tunnels, such as the Sound of Haris, Sound of Barra and in Mull.”

Ms Wishart’s debate at Holyrood this evening is the Scottish Parliament's first on this topic, putting proposals which could transform how Scotland's island and remote communities are connected.

She will use the debate to call on the government to invest in fixed links, such as tunnels and bridges, to better connect remote and island communities across Scotland.

Earlier this year, Ms Wishart also visited the Faroe Islands to see their tunnel infrastructure and to discuss with representatives from the Faroese Government how the islands had benefitted.

She and her Westminster colleague, Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael, have been long-term advocates of the potential for tunnels to build strength in island economies, hosting a series of ‘tunnel vision’ consultations with islanders across Shetland.

Mr Carmichael was with Angus MacNeil at Westminster last week, when the pair met Faroese foreign minister Høgni Hoydal.

Mr Carmichael said after the meeting: “Once the first tunnel has been built the case for the next one will make it itself.

“Speaking to the Faroese minister this week it was notable that the latest tunnel they are opening is over ten kilometres long and connects a community of just 1,600.

“That clearly tells a tale about what is practicable and the scale that is viable. It is one further spur from our northern neighbours for us to move ahead.”

Today Ms Wishart said: “By supporting local economies, strengthening access to public services like healthcare and enhancing cultural ties, fixed links have real potential to reverse the devastating effects of depopulation from our island communities.

“They also have the huge advantage of cutting carbon emissions by reducing reliance on inter-island ferries.

"I've seen first-hand how the Faroe Islands are linking up 18 islands and almost 90% of their population, protecting them from bad weather and breakdowns.

"I will use today's debate to urge the government to deliver the political will and investment required to bring transport infrastructure into the 21st century and link communities long into the future."

The motion has been supported by 10 MSPs including Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan, Highlands and Islands Scottish Labour MSP Rhoda Grant and Orkney’s Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur.

The pictures show the soon-to-open Sandoy tunnel in Faroe, Angus MacNeil at the tunnel approach with fellow MP Ronnie Cowan and tunnel-builder Teitur Samuelsen and Angus with Alistair Carmichael MP (right) and Faroese foreign minister Høgni Hoydal at Westminster last week.