’TIS the season for politicians to clutch lambs. At least Humza Yousaf’s effort in Lewis on Friday was streets ahead of Liz Truss’s boarded-up church and ovine in the headlights. The Lewis lamb gave the appearance of grudging consent – although the mother might disagree – and there was no church in sight – open or otherwise.

I’ve been clutching a few lambs ­myself recently. As I write this, I’m a quarter of the way through my own ­lambing and desperately hoping that the rest of the expectant mothers wait until the worst of Storm Kathleen has passed through. In anticipation of disaster, the sheep have all been brought in close to the house, the shed has been mucked out, and the heat lamps are polished and ready for service.

One of the joys of crofting is that the next disaster is never far away. Last week, no fewer than three sets of twins had to get emergency warming after the ­temperature plummeted. Living where we do and ­doing what we do, trying to anticipate and mitigate the worst of the incoming storms is the best we can manage. The rest is up to nature.

On the campaign trail this week, as the First Minister donned his wellies and ­ventured north, similar could be said for the SNP. When it comes to their vote in the Highlands and Islands, disaster for the ruling party may not be far away. They abjectly failed to anticipate the storms of recent months, and all they can do now is try to mitigate the worst of it. The rest is up to the electorate.

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With the political wind very much ­blowing the wrong way in the Western Isles, Humza Yousaf deployed the ­political equivalent of a heat lamp in Stornoway on Friday, confirming that the Government had miraculously found £175k down the back of the sofa and handed it over to Bòrd na Gàidhlig to briefly extend the Gaelic Development Officer posts which were facing an immediate axe.

From what we can tell, the ­emergency funding will extend posts until ­September. Whilst it’s gratifying to see the ­Government change its mind – and the news is welcome on the basis that ­something is better than nothing – what happens after September? It’s a short-term sticking plaster to stop the ­shouting, but it’s no more than that. To use a

lambing example, you can bring ­something back from the brink with heat, but if you don’t keep feeding it, you could have saved yourself the electricity. ­Additional ­ongoing funding is needed – ringfenced for the very communities the First ­Minister has been visiting – but the budget forecast is looking a little poor.

I was asked last week what questions I thought islanders would want the FM to answer as he kicked his heels on the MV Loch Seaforth, and I happily obliged with a list. The lack of available funding was a recurring theme in the responses, with plenty of ire sent Westminster’s way.

The National: Pictured is the CalMac ferry Loch Seaforth at its berth in Ullapool...  Photograph by Colin Mearns.4th April 2024.

The need for revenue funding is one which appears at almost every level of community projects. At the ­Scottish ­Rural and Islands Parliament in ­November, there was an overwhelming call for ­additional core funding to allow ­development trusts and similar groups to keep delivering the projects and services they have no choice but to deliver.

A plea went out, asking the ­Government to ­recognise that exhausted volunteers should not be the answer to service ­delivery. So, would additional core ­funding be made available to support ­island housing delivery, I asked?

The answer was only if we took money out of education and healthcare. “The flow of consequentials coming up from Westminster is very, very constrained ­indeed,” the FM said.

So, if we want our communities to thrive, we’ve got no choice but to do it ourselves. Of course, doing it ourselves would be easier if we weren’t hobbled at every step by the infrastructure gaps. Which is a lovely segue into ferries.

I didn’t ask specifically about the ­ill-fated disaster tubs because frankly, we’re all sick of them. They came up ­anyway. Much as I would have loved to ask what ­impending fresh hell is on the ­horizon that would occasion the ­pre-emptive ­departure of Robbie ­Drummond of CalMac and the ­Ferguson Marine boss in consecutive weeks, I didn’t think he’d confide in me.

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Instead, I wondered: “Are you able to ask Transport Scotland to review the ­CalMac contract to allow reserved space for island residents on ferries?”

This is a hot potato, and an ongoing source of frustration in the height of ­summer for anyone trying to get away at short notice.

The response was: “It’s an issue that has been around for many, many years. We’ll always look to see what we can do to try to accommodate islanders.

“We want to do that and get the ­balance right between absolutely ensuring ­priority for island residents and ­absolutely ­ensuring that we don’t do anything to unintentionally harm tourism to islands – which is so important to our local businesses and local economy in the islands.”

Sadly, you can’t absolutely ensure both. Having your cake and eating it long since went to the wall. And the question has been around for many many years ­– because, for many many years, no-one has wanted to address the elephant in the room – is that resident communities appear to be less important to politicians than the industry the decision-makers seem to think they serve.

To put none too fine a point on it, the “ensuring that we don’t do anything to unintentionally harm tourism to islands” ship has sailed.

The National: First Minister Humza Yousaf alongside the Highland Drover statue during a visit to Dingwall and Highland Mart in DingwallFirst Minister Humza Yousaf alongside the Highland Drover statue during a visit to Dingwall and Highland Mart in Dingwall (Image: Jane Barlow)

I’m hearing that bookings and ­enquiries are down this year across the islands. We’re open for business, but after last year’s cluster-bùrach with boats, the hospitality sector on its knees through a lack of staff, and the architect-designed holiday lets going for thousands a week (the midgies come free), I wouldn’t blame ­people for deciding that maybe the ­islands aren’t for them this year. There was a ­tailback at the pier in Tiree on ­Friday as the incoming storm had the Easter ­holiday-makers scrambling to escape the idyll. You don’t get that so often in Spain.

From the FM’s response, it’s very clear that the penny has still not dropped in Government that if you want to keep ­tourists coming to the islands or ­ exploring the Highlands, you have to first prioritise making it easier for people to live there.

If no-one of working age lives in rural or island Scotland, there will be no tourism industry. No-one wants to visit paradise if there’s no coffee or cake and you have to cook for yourself every night.

Plenty has been done to ­unintentionally harm resident communities in islands, but much less attention seems to be paid to that.

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One thing is for sure, more ­attention will need to be paid to it if the SNP have any hope of regaining their Western Isles seat in the upcoming Westminster ­election – whenever that may or may not be.

If Rishi Sunak is to be believed, there are a few months to go yet – and the ­incumbents will need them all. ­Westminster is a useful punching bag for the SNP – but rural and island Scotland are not so easily fooled. The recent storms have been entirely of the SNP’s own ­making and spare change to try and shut us up is seen for exactly what it is.

Labour are gaining strength, and ­after the last few years, the West Coast is ­scunnered of the status quo. How much that matters to the SNP is an open ­question, but the fact that the First ­Minister took a trip north suggests that it matters to some degree.