SNP make splash in Western Isles

15 October 2005
SNP MP Angus MacNeil was joined by his colleagues Rob Gibson and Jim Mather from the Scottish Parliament and from the European Parliament by Alyn Smith for a two day tour of the islands, culminating in a public meeting at An Lanntair.

The parliamentarians spent Friday and Saturday meeting people across the Western Isles to hear their concerns about issues on the Isles and to see some of the islands success stories.

Angus MacNeil and Jim Mather (Shadow Minister for Enterprise) concentrated on business issues on the island meeting local firms including West Minch Salmon, technology company Tarbert Technology and tourism firm Kilda Cruises on Friday before holding a successful meeting with Stornoway Chambers of Commerce on Saturday. They also visited Sir E Schott School on Harris to meet John Mitchell and see his innovative hydroponics project at the school.

Speaking after the meeting Jim Mather said

"It is important than when we look at improving growth and developing business in Scotland, we look beyond the central belt and see the potential that is everywhere in Scotland. I've seen projects and businesses here that are doing fantastic things and that have a unique edge, but they have let me know the problems they face with issues such as transport and we will be focussing on that.

"There are also issues surrounding the promotion of businesses and enterprise on the islands that I will certainly be looking into. There is no reason why business on the Western Isles should be any worse off or face any more difficulties than business in Glasgow and that is what we have to work towards."

Angus MacNeil and Jim Mather also took a tour of the roads on South Uist, damaged by the storms in January to assess what action had been taken to improve the roads and ensure safety as winter approaches. After meeting Father Michael Macdonald both Mr MacNeil and Mr Mather will be pursuing several issues connected to the roads with the Scottish Executive.

Alyn Smith MEP and Rob Gibson spent their time looking at renewable projects on the islands, visiting the Arnish yard and the waterwheel at Lews Castle College. They also met with students and lecturers at the college.

Speaking after visiting the college Rob Gibson said

"We have just seen some real innovation in the engineering department here that is supporting projects across the islands, they are working on some unique ideas that really need proper support. The college is doing well and this should be recognised by funding bodies to ensure those employed here or studying here get the financial backing they need to ensure the college can remain competitive."

MEP Alyn Smith also visited the Caledonian MacBrayne terminal on Saturday morning to hear from staff about the upcoming tender and their concerns over the future.

The main issues discussed at the public meeting, where they were also joined by local councillor and SNP group leader Angus Nicholson were issues surrounding the development of renewable energy on the islands, from windfarms to tide and wave power and the problems of transport to and from the islands.

There was a lot of concern raised about the cost and timing of flights from the mainland and the future of the ferry services. The public at the meeting backed cuts to the fares and the use of PSO's to ensure the flights serve the public need. Two issues the SNP parliamentarians have promised to follow up and to pressure the Scottish Executive for action.

Discussing the transport issue MEP Alyn Smith said he would look into what other European countries were doing to support cheap, viable transport to their islands.

"That the cost of flights is so high is damaging to the economy on the western isles. The cost of getting here could put many businesses and tourists off and that is something we must look into. The Executive have demonstrated with the PSO on the flights to Barra that it can act to support flights and bring costs down,and I believe we will have seen passenger numbers boom.

"There is also an issue of the costs and possible compensation for island residents or specific groups such as young or elderly people, other countries can do it so I will be investigating what the position is for Scotland - I see no reason why if France can run concessionary fares Scotland can't."

Speaking after the meeting Mr MacNeil said

"This has been a very successful visit for my colleagues and shows that the SNP has representatives at all levels who are working for the western isles. We will all be going back to our parliaments with a lot of issues to work on for the Western Isles.

"As Highlands and Islands MSPs Jim and Rob have a lot of interest in the islands and will be taking the concerns they picked up this weekend back to Holyrood next week, just as Alyn Smith the SNP MEP for the area will be doing the same with Brussels.

We are working as a team to produce something better for the Western Isles and the response we have had has been very good. Alyn, Rob and Jim, came over to the Isles with me to hear what the public wanted them to do, they are going away to address those issues and we'll be keeping everyone informed of our progress."