Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Election Spotlight: Labour aims to capitalise as indy dream hits the rocks in Western Isles

Our first in a series of features on the intriguing contests shaping up across Scotland before the July 4 general election.

Stornoway Harbour. Image: Shutterstock
Stornoway Harbour. Image: Shutterstock

The Western Isles is a region unlike any other in Scotland – and yet, at this election, it is a perfect microcosm of a battle playing out across the country.

Stretching around 130 miles from the Butt of Lewis in the north to Barra Head in the south, the constituency – properly named Na h-Eileanan an Iar – covers a length approximately the same as the distance from Glasgow to Sunderland.

Away from Stornoway, by far its largest town, the distinct island communities that make up its more than 20,000 voters are often spread out.

That makes chapping doors and speaking to constituents far more challenging and time consuming than in the sprawling housing estates of many larger towns and cities.

Same brand, different ingredients

Angus MacNeil, who held the constituency for 19 years, was expelled from the SNP in August after refusing to rejoin its Westminster group after being suspended over a row with party enforcer Brendan O’Hara.

He is one of a number of high profile figures who publicly fell out with bosses over the SNP’s independence strategy and partnership with the Scottish Greens.

Mr MacNeil is standing again at this election but for the first time will contest the seat as an independent in direct competition with his former party.

Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil. Image: Supplied

He secured an electoral pact with Alex Salmond’s Alba Party but says Humza Yousaf ignored a letter urging him to work together and not stand a rival candidate.

Mr MacNeil claims to have taken the “main brains” of the SNP machine in the Hebrides with him and says the campaign will come down to whether the independence vote will be split sufficiently to allow Labour to win.

He told us: “I’m sure others will join yet. Some are still loyal to the brand even though the ingredients have changed.

“The SNP is carrying a great risk here. Their campaign is going nowhere in the islands, they have no cash and no ideas, and they don’t have the main personnel to run it.”

Election hopefuls dreaming of victory

Mr MacNeil says his victory could fire the starting gun on a cross-party independence push. He is adamant he would win again comfortably if the SNP would “get out of the way”.

But it is not just pro-independence candidates who believe they can win.

Mr MacNeil will contest the constituency against Labour’s Torcuil Crichton, Conservative Kenny Barker, Lib Dem Jamie Dobson, as well as Donald Boyd from the Scottish Christian Party and Susan Thomson from the SNP.

Mr Crichton is a former Westminster journalist and a well-known figure locally.

Labour candidate for the Western Isles, Torcuil Crichton. Image: Supplied

He is keen to move the debate away from the internal strife of the independence movement and focus on local issues.

Communities are suffering from depopulation, a local housing shortage, fraying public services and difficulties accessing healthcare.

We spoke to Mr Crichton as he was sitting in a queue for a ferry where he had been forced to reverse onboard because one of the ramps was not working.

The ferry was due for replacement years ago but it is now delayed until sometime after 2030.

Scotland’s ferry fiasco became a national scandal after two new ships ordered in 2015 for delivery in 2018 were plagued by a botched design process and cost overruns.

Scotland’s next ferry crisis

The cash-cow project has been described as one of the biggest procurement disasters in the history of Scottish devolution.

But Mr Crichton fears worse is still to come as the fleet of smaller vessels ferrying passengers between the islands begins to break down.

He said: “One of the ferries is unable to go out in bad weather because not all of the engines work. That’s the connection people rely on to get to hospital in Stornoway.

“If these ferries don’t work, the whole integrity of the Western Isles is jeopardised.

“The larger ferries to the islands are a big problem but the ferries between the islands, that’s the next ferry crisis.”

A shrinking population means less money to fix many of the biggest issues – which in turn leads to more people leaving.

Mr Crichton says the clamour for change he first experienced when hitting the road in early 2023 has turned from a tap on the shoulder to a prod on the chest.

South Uist residents have been hit by regular ferry cancellations. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson.

The biggest change, he says, is independence supporters who are ready to back Labour because they feel separation is not an immediate priority.

“It’s not that the independence vote will split, so I’ll win,” Mr Crichton said.

“I think the independence vote is waning because there is no logical case for it.

“The people in charge haven’t been on the phone every week asking ‘where are these ferries we ordered’. They’ve just been thinking about how when we’re independent the ferries are going to be great.

“You need people who deliver and they just haven’t been doing it.”

SNP says more the merrier

SNP candidate Susan Thomson is far more reluctant to take aim at her rivals.

Ms Thomson was one of two women elected to the Western Isles Council in 2020 – the first in five years as the authority cast off its unwelcome status as the UK’s only all male council.

She insists independence and Brexit are still two of the most important issues on the minds of local votes – a suggestion rubbished by some of her rivals.

Frances Murray (left) and Susan Thomson make history. Image: Supplied

Ms Thomson rejected the idea that splitting the independence vote between her and MacNeil could risk allowing a pro-Union candidate to win.

“I hate this idea that there are somehow our votes and their votes,” she said.

“When I stood for the council, I was very vocal about representation being really important, and that means the more people who are standing as candidates the better.”

But the Western Isles is not the only constituency where SNP candidates will be forced to face off against former party colleagues.

Former SNP MPs Neale Hanvey, Kenny MacAskill and George Kerevan are among some of the most notable figures standing against their previous party.

Read more: