Monday, July 20, 2009

Top Trumps on the Stornoway-Lewis Ferry

On Sunday the Beeb had an item on its main news programme about the first Sunday sailing of the Stornoway-Lewis ferry.

Operators Caledonian MacBrayne claim that they'd be breaking the law not to. According to the BBC report: "CalMac said it could be breaking equality laws if it did not run ferries seven days a week. It said religion or beliefs were not valid reasons to refuse to run the ferry.

Supporters of the service said it would be good for tourism. They said it would offer more flexibility to travellers.

As the ferry left Stornoway a crowd of several hundred gathered to applaud, and wave to those on board.

The local council for the Western Isles opposes the sailing
, (e.g. here) so this is not just about a few religious traditionalists versus progress, CalMac seems to have gone against the will of the local people. That's much more than 'religion or beliefs'. It also strikes me that the Equality Act 2006 is a convenient place to hide: CalMac wouldn't be doing this if it didn't make them some money.

Their spokesman has at least recognised that they are 'reacting to demand' rather than simply doing the bidding of the law, though launching sailings with only 5 days notice is an interesting tactic. With only a few days notice, anyone from the island who wanted to protest about the sailing would have had to travel to the mainland on Saturday and lodged overnight, so the numbers of protesters at the port is immaterial. This seems to have been deliberately timed to get round local opposition.

1. If the Equality Act means that observing Sunday as a day of rest is illegal, then there are a lot of us who would like to see that legal advice. If the Act really means 'every day must be exactly the same as every other' then that's pretty grim.

2. Given that folk can go pretty much everywhere else in the British Isles on a Sunday, is it really so bad that one part of it is allowed to do things differently? One argument made on the news report was that it was hitting business on the island, and that people were moving away. But is economics always the trump card?

3. Whose needs take preference here? The island is a home to its local population, but most of the CalMac demand (I imagine) comes from tourists. If local people want to have a day when their island isn't swarming with tourists, then what's wrong with that? Just because demand is there doesn't mean it has to be satisfied.

4. Humans aren't made to work 7 days a week, and a community day of rest is a good thing. It's for that community to decide how to observe that, not for commercial interests to decide it for them. Part of the original Sabbath laws was a recognition that there was more to life than work, it was a recognition that we're not slaves, we're human beings rather than human doings. Andrew Marr calls the late 20th century 'the triumph of shopping over politics', but Sabbath reminds us that there's more to life than merely earning and spending money.

5. Does 'religion or beliefs' have any standing at all in decision making, or are they trumped every time? And in this case, what counts as a belief? Isn't the dogma that the only bottom line is the bottom line a mere belief, open to challenge and dispute? Or does CalMac know that by painting its opponents as reactionary Puritans the vast majority of people will automatically side with the ferry company, as they hear the dog whistle sound?

the press release from Keep Sunday Special notes that CalMac is government-backed, and that their decision overrides the will of local people. Another report quotes a hotelier on the island who is now having bookings cancelled because folk can leave the island a day earlier at the weekend.

The danger in all of this is that it's just another 'church says no' story, which depicts Christians as fun-quenching killjoys stuck in the 18th century. It all depends on how you tell the story: are the Christians reactionaries opposed to 'progress', or beleagured underdogs fighting to protect a valued way of life against the march of capitalism?


  1. My only observation is that the 'Keep Sunday Special' representatives came across really badly on the radio reports I heard! The message seemed to be that Sunday trade represents the root of all society's ills.

    I seem to remember hearing the word 'putrefying' in reference to the state of modern society. I'm not sure what that does for the credibility of other Christians, but it made me sigh.

  2. Oh dear. Not the way to win friends and influence people.

  3. and I'm fully aware that, for all I know, the Christians involved may indeed be fun-quenching killjoys. It's hard to tell from Somerset