CELEBRITY pilgrimages to the Scottish islands are very much in vogue these days.

A sweeping title sequence features breath-taking landscapes and the occasional tasteful ruin before our adventurous presenter is found striding across an empty beach. They pause to gaze out to sea, the water lapping their toes.

They have fallen in love with the Scottish islands, and by the time the credits roll, so have their viewers.

But beneath the picture-postcard exterior, a ­revolt is brewing. The reality is that removed from the glossy magazine features extolling “hidden gems” to their extensive readership, or the prime-time visual feasts, life in many of Scotland’s islands is getting ­increasingly difficult for resident communities.

Thursday’s announcement that after much ­campaigning, the Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) proposals in their current form are being ditched is a positive step forward, but while the ­HPMAs might have sunk below the waves for the time being, the Government and its Highland and ­Island MSPs have a lot of ground to make up if they are to regain the trust of their rural constituents.

HPMAs were only one of an ever-growing list of ­issues faced by islanders

Each of the issues poses a threat on its own. In combination, they threaten the very existence of thriving resident communities, and those communities are beginning to fight back.

The beleaguered CalMac ferry service is one of the topics making daily headlines. Out of sight and out of mind for the past few decades, island boats worked. Until they didn’t. The past two years of ­breakdowns have been utterly catastrophic for ­reliant communities.

READ MORE: Tiree's economy could sink unless plans are scrapped

Too late, the SNP administration ordered two new vessels from a Scottish shipyard. Those too have been the subject of many a headline, failing to materialise on time – the budget blown.

Four additional boats have now been ordered, but they will take time to build.

In the meantime, many west coast communities have been left with less than 50% of their usual ferry capacity this year. As a ­result, many tourist businesses report a similar loss in turnover since the season started.

Mull is totalling its economic loss at £1.5 ­million so far in 2023. Island traders at the Royal ­Highland Show last week were united in lamenting the ­appalling start to the season.

The National: Islanders must be at the helm if HPMA proposals are ever to work in Scotland

Among the worst affected by the ferry issues has been South Uist, which made history last month with the first large-scale island protest march in ­living memory – voicing their frustration against the ­decision to withdraw their boat during June. It’s the second time their ferry has been withdrawn in as many months.

CalMac executives finally made the journey to South Uist to meet with residents a few weeks ago. They required a lengthy detour and had to leave a ­vehicle on the mainland. Neither fact was lost on those who attended the meeting.

The Uibhistich made their case clearly

The ­visitors assured those present that they were listening. Those present were less convinced, pointing out that an apology had been entirely lacking. The best South Uist can hope for is that “the matrix” – the method of deciding which islands have their boats reduced or withdrawn -– is reviewed in their favour.

At a cross-party group on ferries, managing director of CalMac Robbie Drummond said that the review process should be complete by next summer. Their boat finally came back into service on ­Friday, but it’s cold comfort for those whose businesses may not last this summer.

READ MORE: Calmac South Uist ferry disruption 'catastrophic

As the HPMA decision has shown, the raised ­voices from the islands are beginning to draw ­attention and that is proving to be a double-edged sword.

On Twitter, a substantial number of ­passionate independence supporters, ­unable to ­accept that the SNP might be better at some things than others, are pointing out that 99% of sailings are ­running on time, and that silly ­islanders are crying over spilt saline.

The wise would do well to scrutinise the ­statistics

To run on time, a sailing must be, well, sailing. Cancelled bookings might be a more useful yardstick. More than 11,300 ­bookings were cancelled in 2022 – and the number will be much, much higher this year. Each of those 11,300 bookings is a person or a family unit. And many of those cancelled bookings result in real-life crises.

Even for islands that have another route to the mainland, withdrawing a service is withdrawing a lifeline. Boats are not elastic.

Just because another route exists doesn’t mean it will suddenly be able to accept additional traffic.

Just as this is frustratingly true for those visiting the islands, so too is it frustratingly true for those trying to transport animals, staff GP surgeries, import animal feeding, get to graduations, collect kids from uni or get to family events.

A cancelled boat – a seemingly small thing to a mainlander – has a ripple effect through a community which is actually reliant on it.

The ferry crisis alone would be bad enough. But it is not alone.

Tourism, crofting and fishing make up the three key pillars of most island ­economies 

The tourist season is short and businesses need to make the most of it to get through the winter. To do that, they need staff and staff need somewhere to live.

In the Isle of Tiree for example, 46% of the housing stock is not lived in year-round. They are either short-term lets, or holiday houses – the vast majority of those owned by people who are not ­residents. That leaves very little ­accommodation for seasonal staff, never mind the permanent workers and families who are needed to keep a small community running.

Recent research conducted in Tiree by the Community Housing Trust has ­indicated that there are at least a ­potential 21 new households coming from existing Tiree residents who are unable to find housing, and has also identified 43 people seeking to move to Tiree, 21% of whom already have an offer of employment.

READ MORE: Fears raised after report looks to Japan over depopulation

Fighting island depopulation is ­apparently a key part of government ­policy, but when it comes to housing, it is up to communities themselves to fight and organise and manage the builds. Capital costs are mainly covered, but core funding to cover the people-power required is scarce.

With the working-age population already at a premium, ­volunteers for boards and organisations are spread far too thinly.

Even when they tried to address the ­falling population directly, the ­Government somehow managed to ­entirely miss the point.

Its widely ­reported £50,000 island bonds, designed to attract people to the islands, failed to take into account that ­issues around ­depopulation are not about a lack of people wanting to live in the ­islands but rather about the lack of ­housing, the lack of childcare and the unreliability of the infrastructure and transport options ­required to make life comfortable.

You can fire as many people at the ­problem as you like, but they will leave again if the underlying issues are not ­resolved. ­Islanders who spoke out against the bonds were branded ungrateful, ­hostile even, by mainlanders who thought they should be grateful.

Thankfully, the bond idea was also dropped.

Infrastructure aside, the picture-­perfect image perpetuated about the ­islands hides other harsh realities.

Islanders are disproportionately ­affected by the cost of living

Heating oil is used in place of gas – and that is not ­subject to the same energy price ­guarantees.

Coal and wood must be brought in. A tonne of coal has more than doubled in price in the past 12 months. ­Island winters are tough going and ­houses tend to be older and ­draughtier.

In ­Shetland, a 2022 report noted that the cost of living is anything from 20% to 65% higher than it is on the mainland and that 96% of Shetland households would be spending 10% of their income on energy costs by April 2023.

READ MORE: Few visitors to the Hebrides understand the realities of island life

Smaller islands have Co-op stores that are so small they are zoned as “convenience stores’’. The smaller the store, the higher the prices. Asked if they thought they would still be living in Tiree in five years time, 32% of respondents to a community consultation either thought they would have left, or were unsure.

Agriculture is another area where ­uncertainty is growing. Crofters are ­looking at a future out of the EU with grave concern – hoping the latest round of subsidy changes won’t be the end of an industry which already operates on a knife-edge but plays a key role in creating the landscape visitors know and love.

The Government makes much of its ­“Island Communities Impact ­Assessment” (ICIA) process. An ICIA is a ­mechanism by which it assesses new policies to make sure they are “island proofed”. To date, however, most island communities are unclear as to how ­precisely this is being done, who is being asked and which ­islands are being used as a yardstick.

The National: Cows grazing in the evening light as the sun sets over the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, NFU Scotland held their Forth and Clyde Region farm walk at Portnellan Farm, Gartocharn, hosted by the Scott-Park family     Ref:RH18517033

Indeed, just last week, it was ­suggested that the withdrawal of ­CalMac ­services was in contravention of the ­Government’s own policy due to the lack of island ­impact assessments.

The ultimately doomed Deposit Return Scheme utterly failed to appreciate the impact on island distilleries, shops and hotels, and laid bare the mainland-centric approach to policy implementation.

READ MORE: Second homes debate in Scotland has no place for manners. Here's why

And so, with islanders already hovering around the “furious” mark – exhausted and frustrated by a whole raft of issues – the blue touch-paper was finally lit with the Government consultation on Highly Protected Marine Areas.

No-one wants the fishing industry to be sustainable more than the small-scale, low-impact creel fishermen on the west coast.

The closest thing to an expert on the seas of the west coast would be a west coast fisherman, but their expertise wasn’t drawn on.

Few would argue with the principle of protecting the sea, or the suggestion that more can and should be done, but the heavy-handed, top-down approach from Holyrood, alongside an impenetrable consultation document, ­created a wave of fear and of fury.

A protest song on the topic, ­Clearances Again, was penned by the band ­Skippinish.

No-one in this part of the world uses the word “Clearances” ­lightly. In the normally reserved islands, a ­protest song and a march on different topics within a few weeks of each other is a sure sign that patience is running out.

And with the housing crisis, economic threats on all sides and a second winter of rapidly rising prices approaching, trust in the existing government is at rock ­bottom.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar and Argyll and Bute have returned both an SNP MSP and MP since 2015. Acknowledging that the SNP could have done better on ­crofting, and let them down with ferries, many held their nose and continued to vote SNP in the belief that they were the best of a bad bunch. Those days are over.

The question is, where do aggrieved ­islanders turn?

Islanders have heard all of the promises before – from every party. Few really believe that any of the other parties would have done things ­differently.

A quick glance down the road to ­Westminster doesn’t show the Tories in a good light. The LibDems are missing in action UK wide and Labour have long since lost the respect of much of the Scottish electorate, although it is likely that they will gain ground in the Western Isles with the arrival of Torcuil Crichton.

Accepting that independence is a good idea would go a long way to rehabilitating both the LibDems and Labour in Scotland, but that seems unlikely.

The Greens, generally prefixed with “urban” (or worse) in rural Scotland, have chosen a scorched-earth policy, burning their tentative support base among the more liberal island contingent to the ground with the DRS, HPMAs and a generalised unwillingness to accept the elephant in the outside lane which is the A9.

READ MORE: Visitors are being sold false picture of our islands

If the formal political landscape is the equivalent of a wasteland, the ­social-­media landscape is closer to an ­apocalyptic hellscape.

Criticising the Government – be it a minister, CalMac or the DRS – in mainstream forums such as Facebook, and notably Twitter, results in one of two accusations; that islanders are threatening the independence cause and are secret Tories, or that they have brought it on themselves by voting SNP, and deserve all they get.

Particularly discomfiting are the ­suggestions that by “choosing” to live in the islands, we should expect nothing less. Aside from the sheer stupidity of the sentiment, it speaks volumes about the attitudes of some mainlanders, for whom the idea of an indigenous island culture is entirely alien.

Many of us will need to pop past the graveyard for a stern word with the ancestors next time we’re ­passing. How dare they not have seen this day coming?

Listening to the vitriol across social ­media, aimed at islanders from both sides of the independence divide, it is ­becoming increasingly clear that ­solving island ­issues needs to be done by those who ­understand the nuances and ­complexities of island life.

There is no doubt that answers exist for the issues facing our islands – there is an answer for most things.

READ MORE: Will the SNP ever be able to regain the trust of islanders?

But they will only be found if those IN island ­communities are part of finding them. ­Solutions cooked up on the mainland and foisted on exhausted communities will never be welcomed – however ­sensible or ­well-intentioned they may be.

Realising that Edinburgh is as ­remote as London, and that fellow Scots are ­beginning to use island struggles as a ­political football, talk across the ­Highlands and Islands is rapidly ­turning to the need for representation that ­truly understands rural Scotland.

There is a strong history of ­independent politicians from the ­Highlands and ­Islands, and we may well see that ­approach begin to flourish again.

There has been chat about a Western Isles ­Party

Some commentators are ­suggesting a Highlands and Islands Party which might be indy-neutral, and others are going still further and are proposing an ­independence movement of their own – an Independent Highlands and Islands, away from Holyrood.

Whatever happens next, it is clear that the strength of feeling around the ­HPMAs has started a political discussion that is far from over.

Unless the Government and other policy makers truly take on board the concerns of island and indeed Highland voters, it is entirely possible that as Kate Forbes MSP recently said: “The ­rarest ­species in our coastal areas and our ­islands will soon become people.”

Without them, there will be no-one to appreciate the fact that the lobsters are larger. There will be no communities to host visitors, and no-one to provide a photo opportunity for the proud politicians.

Unfortunately, with their eyes firmly focused on the vote-winning Scottish Central Belt, existing political parties are failing to heed the warnings from the ­islands. This latest U-turn may be too ­little, too late.