Islay and Jura are extraordinary places. Beautiful, wild and windswept. The population of Islay is around 3,500; just 200 people live on Jura. I felt at home there, perhaps because I too live on an island, albeit a less remote one, or perhaps because I always feel happier in a quieter place.
My partner, Tim, and our dog, Beinn, came along for the weekend to help out at events and celebrate my birthday on the Monday. The cat and chickens opted to stay at home in the capable hands of a neighbour. Our day started early with our first ferry from Bute, where we live, onto the Cowal peninsula. It was a lovely day and we got some glorious footage of the journey for the film we are making of the manifesto events.
Our second ferry of the day was from Portavadie to Tarbet; you can drive around but it takes a bit longer. A brief chat at the ferry terminal revealed the challenges of promoting arts and culture in a region as diverse and widespread as Argyll & Bute. The dog paid no attention. There were waves to chase.
We arrived on Islay for our first event around 2pm after our third ferry – from Kennacraig to Port Askaig this time – and in need of stretching our legs. A walk around one of the Islay nature reserves did the trick – dog still focused on chasing the waves – and we arrived in Bowmore in plenty of time to eat and get ready for the event. Andreas from BBC Alba came along to film the event to be broadcast on Monday so I spent some time thinking about that whilst wandering along the beach.
More people arrived than expected, but a quick collection of extra chairs and tables and we could accommodate everyone. Transport dominated the discussion, local democracy important too, but it’s often at the end, when the official bit is over, that the real topics come up. A young woman talking about her sense of isolation and her devastating suicide attempts brought mental health services to the fore. But more than that, it raised concerns about how we reduce loneliness, celebrate diversity of thought and action and the importance of arts, culture and social connectivity, not just digital.
The following day took us on another ferry to another beautiful place, Jura. The event there in the community hall, across from the community shop and the community café highlighted the benefits of community action. There can’t be many communities who have quietly achieved so much. Some places spring to mind, but not many.
I leave feeling calm, and hopeful, and convinced more than ever that Scotland needs something which connects its rural communities. We have so much to offer, often un-celebrated, and the words of one Jura resident stick in my mind ‘We may be just 200 people, but we matter. Please don’t forget about us’.