[18.30 updated version] There are also community land ownership issues on the horizon.
There is a man who has lived on Easdale for 11 years with his wife and 2 children, the youngest of whom goes to Easdale school.
He has been the island’s principal ferryman for 10 years.
He has become a victim of the governing ethos of the community company on the island – Eilean Eisdeal - whose directors are identified but whose specific membership remains a secret.
The Residents and Property Owners; Association unequivocally support the ferryman in what appears to be a retributive dispute.
This Monday, 8th October, there was an unpleasant incident on the island’s ferry when a Highlands and Islands MSP who lives on the island and is central to the community company, boarded the ferry at lunchtime to leave the island.
The ferry – in the charge of the famously punctual ferryman was, as usual, in time but the MSP is said to have accused it of being late, sworn at the ticket collector on the ferry and refused to show a ticket, as is required.
The directors of Eilean Eisdeal are believed since to have made one of a series of complaints about the ferryman to his employers, Argyll and Bute Council. These complaints are said to be designed to have him removed from his post.
We understand that council officers are holding a meeting in Oban today at which the complaints made against the ferryman are being discussed.
The Residents and Property Owners’ Association have written to the council to protest against the basis of the complaints made and to make it clear that the ferryman has always provided a first class service and has been helpful and pleasant.
Matters between the ferryman and the Eilean Eisdeal company appear to have been aggravated recently. After observing an island minor who appeared to be drunk and to have been handling an inflatable dinghy across Easdale Sound, possibly with other minors aboard, the ferryman, concerned for the safety of those involved, reported the matter to social services who in turn reported it to the police.
The minor in question was the son of one of the directors of the Eilean Eisdeal company who is said to have been out of the country at the time – and the result was what seems to have been a vindictive complaint to the council about the ferryman.
We have been told that a senior officer at Argyll and Bute Council phoned the MSP whose behaviour triggered the latest outbreak and reminded him that refusal to produce a ticket for a fare is a police matter; and that when the MSP returned to the island later that day, he produced a ticket to the collector and bought several books of tickets.
The situation on the island has become too much for the ferryman and he has his house there on the market.
Eilean Eisdeal may lose the island a highly responsible ferryman, a family and a child for the local school.
The recent very public schemozzle over whether or not the annual World Stone Skimming Championships would or would not go ahead [due essentially to the failure of Eilean Eisdeal to acquire and produce to the .landowner a valid public liability insurance certificate to cover the occasion] – has led to the owner of the island offering it for sale.
It is understood that Eilean Eisdeal is interested in pursuing a community buy out of the island.
Such a proposal in a small and conflicted community would be unlikely to succeed in funding submissions to underpin a bid.
Imagine the embarrassment for the land reform movement in Scotland if an island owned and managed by a community trust were to have their conduct as landlords legally challenged by some of their tenants? That would be a philosophical conundrum no one would wish to see. Yet in this difficult situation nothing would be a more certain bet.
Anxious to determine some factual security on the current incident, we asked Mike Mackenzie, the MSP in question for his account of the incident in which he has been said to have sworn at the ticket collector and refused to show a ticket; and in which he is supposed to have been contacted about the matter by a council official.
Mr Mackenzie replied promptly saying:
‘I did make a minor comment/complaint on Monday about the ferrymen arriving back slightly late after their lunch break. This meant that I was unable to buy a book of tickets as these are only available from the ferry waiting room and not from the boat.
‘I bought a book of tickets on my return and gave them a ticket in respect of this journey.
‘It does not seem unreasonable that the ferrymen arrive a couple of minutes before the ferry leaves in order to allow passengers to buy tickets, especially after an hour and half break.’
This response makes no mention of whether he swore; or of whether he was contacted by the council official concerned.
We understand fully how easy it is in a small community – and one isolated between the hours of the last ferry in the evening and the next one the following morning – for disputes of initially modest scale to accelerate to monstrous proportions. But this situation is out of control.
A temper flare followed by what appears to be an unpleasantly retributive complaint against the ferryman – is not remotely the picture of a community that would be easy to support in establishing a community buy out.
And Mr Mackenize has fences to mend.
Note: The earlier version of this article was based on some misunderstandings and is now corrected.