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2009-06-18
Great Britain
Sunday's Last Stand on Lewis and Harris
As a ferry service exploits law intended to enforce equality, many feel their way of life is in danger

The long Hebridean island that comprises Lewis and Harris – the third largest island in Great Britain and Ireland, after Great Britain and Ireland – may be the last place in Europe where Christianity rather than commerce or secular law can dictate the pattern of everyday life for Christians and non-Christians alike. Probably, this state of affairs was always going to end. Protestant beliefs have been dying in Scotland since the first world war, even in islands and settlements that once seemed protected against the tides of unbelief and materialism by their remoteness and poverty. Louis MacNeice, visiting the Hebrides in the 1930s, wrote, "We expect in an island to meet insular vices. What is shocking is to find the vices of the mainland."

Last week, however, it suddenly looked as though Christian power in Lewis and Harris was going to end sooner rather than later. The ferry company, Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac), announced that after taking legal advice it intended to run ferries to Stornoway on a Sunday. Not since the invention of the steamboat has a ship touched the port bearing fare-paying passengers on the Sabbath. There has been uproar.

Consternation among Sabbatarians, celebration among their opposites: as with so many stories in the Hebrides, the outsider's temptation is to reach for the template of Whisky Galore. But here in Lewis the story is a serious matter, deservedly so, which can provoke statements that though extreme are not necessarily untrue. On the side against Sunday ferries I have heard a man say that CalMac's decision reflects "the increasingly strident hatred of Christianity in our national culture". And from a woman who welcomes them: "It's about our right to live without the oppression of fundamentalists – Britain went to war in Afghanistan for the same reason."

What she meant by fundamentalism was the influence of the Presbyterian population. Lewis and Harris contain about 20,000 people and 43 Presbyterian congregations (as well as three Scottish Episcopalian churches and one each for the Catholics and Baptists). The Presbyterians have been prone to schism ever since the Great Disruption of 1843, when the more evangelical and democratic wing of the Church of Scotland broke away to form the Free Church. The schisms since would need a chart like the Hapsburg family tree to explain, but the consequence in Lewis and Harris is the presence of the Free Church and the Free Church (Continuing), the Free Presbyterians and the Associated Free Presbyterians. Of these, the Free Church is by far the largest. The doctrinal differences between them seem (to me) slight; you would need the theological equivalent of a wine-taster's nose. But all are devotees of the fourth commandment and therefore natural supporters of the Lord's Day Observance Society (LDOS), whose new name, Day One, was coined in England and isn't much used hereabouts.

They are easy to mock, and journalists have mocked them for at least 50 years. John Macleod, their excellent historian (and himself a journalist), said when I met him in Stornoway that they were "victims of an atypically irreligious profession" which had pilloried their severity while ignoring their ministers' contribution to the human welfare of communities that have suffered almost everything that the weather and changing patterns of trade can throw at them. Still, the mockery may be slackening. Sabbatarian instincts in Lewis are no longer confined to the religious. According to Angus Mackay, who is managing the LDOS campaign to stop Sunday ferries, increasing numbers of people are attracted by the "cultural arguments" for keeping Sundays as they are. Mackay teaches Sunday School at the Free Church in a crofting settlement 15 miles south of Stornoway, but almost everything else about him is surprising. He works as a film editor; in conversation he is thoughtful and open; together we worried if it might be Ben's turn to be fired in The Apprentice. "For me the Sabbath is a spiritual thing," he said, "but what's interesting is the number of people, entirely secular, who are willing to come out and defend it."

The question is: what will they be defending? The Lewis Sunday, like Lewis itself, is constantly changing. Most people still observe the old niceties – gardens aren't dug, washing isn't pinned to outdoor clothes lines – but the time when Lewis was stilled have gone. Cars buzz about. Council workers need to rise early on the Sabbath to sweep pavements clean of Saturday night's broken glass and vomit. Stornoway's pubs and a couple of restaurants boldy open up shop later in the day. And, the biggest hole in the Sabbatarian case, CalMac ferries have been reaching Harris from North Uist since 2006 and scheduled flights have popped in and out of Stornoway airport since 2002.

Given these facts, all too sadly observable by the wee-est of Wee Frees, the degree of fear and hostility prompted by the Sunday ferry announcement is at first sight hard to understand. Some of it reflects Presbyterian beleaguerment: their Sunday castles have been toppling ever since a Sunday-breaking ferry reached Skye in 1965 – the Rev Angus Smith lay down in protest on the slipway – and this is their last stand (defeat would surely soon be followed by beeping tills at Tesco and the Co-op). But most anger comes from the fact that they thought they had a deal. CalMac always said that it would be "mindful" of the wishes of the population as expressed through their local authority, and the Western Isles council has always said it didn't want a Sunday ferry. CalMac, wholly owned by the Scottish government, could have ignored that wish and started sailing tomorrow. Instead, in what many Lewis people on both sides of the argument see as a cowardly stratagem, it announced that not sailing every day of the week could be in breach of the Equality Act 2006. The Equality and Human Rights Commission had received a complaint about the lack of Sunday sailings and that, apparently, was the legal opinion.

Very few people believe it can possibly obtain this. An act devised to outlaw "discrimination on goods and services on the grounds of religion and belief" was surely intended, as an old Lewis friend of mine said, "to stop unlikely things such as CalMac forbidding Stornoway cruises to lesbians". In fact, the Sabbatarians feel the boot is rather on the other foot. Theirs is the different way of life – peculiar though it may be to the mainland – that is most at risk. In the words of John Macleod: "If we were a rare species of corncrake, we'd be up to our neck in legal protection."

This week the Lord's Day Observers hired their own QC to give his opinion. My own suspicion is that money and not the law will win the argument. Thanks to a fresh state subsidy, CalMac has cut fares on the Stornoway route by 40% for an experimental period. The ferry company may argue that to keep the cut permanent will require it to maximize its assets – ships working seven days a week rather than six. The choice between higher fares or Sunday ferries would be a test, almost a parable, for all in Lewis who remember the Sabbath day and want to keep it holy.

© Guardian News & Media 2008
URL: http://www.buzzle.com/articles/271196.html

Scottish sabattarians try to stop Sunday ferry sailings

Although you might have thought the Lords Day Observance Society had gone the same way as the Flat Earth Society, you would be wrong. It still has a stronghold in the Hebrides. Indeed, it is fighting a rearguard action to keep the Caledonian McBrayne Ferries from reaching the island of Lewis on "the sabbath".

The ferry company says it has received legal advice that the existing practice of not providing seven-day sailings is likely to fall foul of the Equality Act 2006. CalMac chairman Peter Timms said the company had been approached by the Equality and Human Rights Commission following a complaint to it suggesting CalMac is breaching equality legislation. But the sabbatarians are angry that CalMac refuses to publish the legal advice, giving the impression that they don't believe it.

The group has now instructed a Scottish advocate in an effort to thwart the Sunday ferry running between Stornoway and Ullapool.

Source: National Secular Society
URL: http://www.secularism.org.uk/110423.html

Scottish sabattarians try to stop Sunday ferry sailings

22.05.2009 (NSS) Although you might have thought the Lords Day Observance Society had gone the same way as the Flat Earth Society, you would be wrong. It still has a stronghold in the Hebrides. Indeed, it is fighting a rearguard action to keep the Caledonian McBrayne Ferries from reaching the island of Lewis on "the sabbath".

The ferry company says it has received legal advice that the existing practice of not providing seven-day sailings is likely to fall foul of the Equality Act 2006. CalMac chairman Peter Timms said the company had been approached by the Equality and Human Rights Commission following a complaint to it suggesting CalMac is breaching equality legislation. But the sabbatarians are angry that CalMac refuses to publish the legal advice, giving the impression that they don't believe it.

The group has now instructed a Scottish advocate in an effort to thwart the Sunday ferry running between Stornoway and Ullapool.

Source: National Secular Society
URL: http://www.secularism.org.uk/110423.html

Ferry battle becomes political
Anti-Sunday crossing campaigners seek candidate to stand in next general election


A search has begun in the Western Isles to find a political candidate to fight the next general election on an anti-Sunday ferry stance.

Many islanders in Lewis and Harris are furious at CalMac’s controversial proposal to implement a Sunday ferry against the local Sabbath observance tradition.

The ferry company maintains it obtained senior legal advice suggesting the ban against the Stornoway ferry from sailing on the Sabbath is illegal.

CalMac refuses to reveal the details of its advice, leading its detractors to query if it actually exists.

It is understood CalMac is pulling back from any potential attempt of launching Sunday sailings next month.

It is believed that ferry bosses told Western Isles councillors that its consultation will continue and that there will be no decision on going ahead with Sunday sailings at the next directors’ meeting.

The fight is now poised to move from legal arguments to the political stage.

Objectors are looking for a suitable candidate who would stand as an independent in the Westminster elections.

It is understood the Scottish Christian Party would withdraw from the island’s election contest to allow a local Christian independent a better chance.

Such a candidate would grab votes from Christians who could not conscientiously vote for the mainstream parties because of the ferry row. The issue is expected to be given a high profile at a mass protest meeting being organised for later this month, which is being supported by all Presbyterian denominations on the island.

Though the Lewis branch of the Lord’s Day Observance Society (LDOS) is open to any candidate, the individual would not be affiliated to the body.

A suitable independent would expect to receive the endorsement of the LDOS.

An ideal hopeful would stand for traditional island values and offer a compromise between Labour and SNP on economic and social issues. The thrust into the political arena would be one tactic to scare the two main contenders for the Western Isles constituency.

Labour hopes to wrestle the seat from the sitting SNP candidate, but neither is strongly against a Sunday ferry.

Local LDOS chairman Rev Iain D Campbell said: “It would certainly be an independent candidate who would not be particularly riding on any one ticket. It is a possibility at this stage. We have not ruled it out.”

CalMac’s plan boosted the audience numbers attending the annual rally of the Lord’s Day Observance Society held in Stornoway town hall on Friday night. About 250 attended the forum which is seen as a taster for the forthcoming mass meeting.

Source: The Press & Journal
URL: http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/1251251?UserKey=
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