Sunday, 11 November 2007

Sunday, ferries and "blue laws" in the Outer Hebrides

First, some background: "A blue law, in the United States and Canada, is a type of law designed to enforce moral standards, particularly the observance of Sunday as a day of worship or rest." More details and examples here.

Sunday opening may not strike most people as a big issue. However, in the Outer Hebrides and especially on the island of Lewis, it is a major and emotive issue. See, for example, the news article and online debate about a Lewis shop which opened (and then rapidly closed) on a Sunday. 

Here in the Outer Hebrides, the two main "battleground" issues concern whether the ferry between Stornoway on Lewis  and Ullapool on the mainland should resume sailing on a Sunday, and whether the sports centre in Stornoway should open on that day. Here's the ferry (picture by Alan Davey):


And yes, I did say "resume". There have been Sunday ferries from Lewis before, though it's difficult to pin down the date when they stopped. 

On the "Keep things closed" side, the arguments are:

  • Religious / scripture grounds.

  • A "day of rest" makes for more opportunity for families to be together.

  • Sunday closing helps to keep the local "culture" intact.

  • An increase in noise and disruption. 

  • People should not be forced to work on every day of the week, which under contract many would for seven day opening.

  • Sunday closing holds back the 24/7 consumerist culture that is found in most other places.

  • Once a few Sunday openings happen, a "domino effect" will result in other services opening on a Sunday, and the Outer Hebrides will become indistinguishable from the mainland.

On the "Open things that are closed" side, the arguments are:

  • Similar services in the Outer Hebrides are already open e.g. flights to and from Stornoway airport.

  • Freedom of choice for people irrespective of their religious or personal views.

  • Having services closed on a Sunday helps propogate a "backwards" impression of the Outer Hebrides.

  • More transport options make the Hebrides a more attractive tourist option, pumping money into the local economy.

  • Bringing the islands into modern standards makes them more attractive to move to, helping demographics.

  • The island are losing people to the mainland, especially younger people, due to restricted options and opportunities.

  • Family e.g. students in mainland universities, would return home more frequently as it would be logistically easier.

In April last year, Calmac started running a Sunday ferry across the Sound of Harris. I was one of several residents and tourists (and a lot more politicians and media) on that ferry, curious as to the days events:



There was consensus on the ferry that, though there had been some debate and opposition, the big battle would be over the Stornoway - Ullapool Sunday ferry crossing.

And debate there is; often heated, across several media, and apolitical. On both sides, you will find people who detest each other for socio-political reasons (and personal history) making the same arguments.

Debate is carrying on in some online arena; here's a few:

From an Internet perspective, there's a widely-held incorrect view that it's just the pro-sailing, pro-Sunday opening residents, and assorted atheists, of the Outer Hebrides who go online to argue this one out. As the debates above show, that's complete nonsense. The Outer Hebrides have many residents who blog, debate online or upload content. These include a considerable number of churches in Stornoway (population 8,000 and the largest town on Lewis) alone such as the Stornoway Free Church, Stornoway Free Church of Scotland Continuing (n.b. those last two are different), New Wine Church, Catholic Church, Scottish Episcopal Church, Stornoway Baptist Church and the Free Presbyterian Church.

The latter of these have a clear policy on Sunday; if you visit their website on that day of the week, this is what you will see:

Bloggers who argue in favour of retaining Sunday closure on religious grounds include this resident of Lewis and this minister.

That second blogger is an interesting and high-profile resident, as he also writes a weekly column ("Back Lines") in the Stornoway Gazette, some of those writings also appearing on his blog. And it's the letters page of that newspaper which is one of the main arena for discussion, being read widely by residents. The Gazette also has a sort-of website, on which it unfortunately only makes available a fraction of the content and letters it receives. Letters within it on the Sunday issue include:

Until recently, the proportion of letters "against" Sunday opening/ferries was much higher than "for", though recently it's about even.

Calmac are due to meet in a soon where they'll (possibly) make a decision. It will be interesting to watch how this particular long-running issue evolves before then.

1 comment:

  1. Nice site, great photos, good balance. Suggest you look at this online petition to bring you up to date with the Sunday ferries debate. Interesting few weeks ahead with some big decisions expected.