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Rob Flett reports
"Pressure for Sunday transport appears to be growing"
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Thursday, 16 March, 2000, 09:23 GMT
Sunday ferries sail closer
MV Hebridean Isles
Sunday ferries may become a reality
A large majority of people on the strongly-presbyterian islands of Lewis and Harris now want ferries on Sundays, according to a poll.

Yet islanders, who also showed they wanted air services on Sundays, still seem to regard it as a special day of rest.

Most of those who took part in the survey were against local shops in Stornoway opening on the Sabbath.

It marks a sea change in opinion about transport links with the mainland

Councillor Donald John Macsween
Ferry company Caledonian MacBrayne now says it would put on Sunday services if asked by the islands' transportation committee.

Although there are likely to be calls for a further referendum before any change is made, all previous polls carried out in the last decade have shown a strong majority against Sunday travel to and from the two islands.

Support for referendum

The survey was carried out for the BBC Two Gaelic current affairs programme Cunntas, broadcast on Thursday night.

The programme, which translates as "Account", commissioned Mori Scotland to ask 750 people on Lewis and Harris about their attitude to Sunday transport and shopping. The research was carried out between 29 February and 4 March.

A clear majority of 72% said they would like a referendum on Sunday travel to and from the islands. It also found that 61% either strongly supported or tended to support ferry services starting on Sunday.

Inverness plane
The poll found support for flights
Only 24% stated they strongly opposed Sunday sailings while another 9% said they tended to oppose them.

On the question of Sunday flights, 62% of islanders said there should be such a service.

Only 20% of those asked were strongly opposed to Sunday flights, with another 12% tending to oppose them.

Councillor Donald John Macsween, who has been a minority voice on Western Islands Council campaigning for Sunday ferries, said: "I'm delighted with the result. It marks a sea change in opinion about transport links with the mainland.

Minister's scepticism

"It was a very high poll and is bound to be an accurate reflection of opinion."

He said he would now write to the chairman of ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne to ask for a Sunday ferry service "as soon as operationally possible".

"It is also incumbent on Western Isles Council to ensure that they recognise that the vast majority in Lewis and Harris want Sunday ferries and they should work to facilitate that."

Most were against shops opening on Sunday
Reverend John Macleod, of the Free Presbyterian Church in Stornoway, said he did not trust polls in general.

"We do not know how the interviewees were chosen. Did they put out the light and put pins in the phone book or did they deliberately choose who to phone?

"I don't know about Mori's techniques but it is surely possible that non-locals were targeted if, for example, they had non-local surnames."

Mr Macleod said it was not a case of majority or minority but what was in scripture.

'Necessity and mercy'

He said: "If only 1% say that what the divine law says is that only work of necessity and mercy should be done on the Sabbath it is still that 1% which are correct."

CalMac said it had no plans for Sunday ferries but a spokesman added: "However, we will do so if asked by the Western Isles Council's transportation committee or by the Scottish Executive."

Opinions were strongly against Sunday shopping, with two-thirds who took part in the poll not in favour.

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