The Western Isles or Outer Hebrides stretch over a distance of some 130 miles. The largest island is the 'long island' of Lewis and Harris, but others include Benbecula, Barra and North & South Uist. Crofting, fishing, whisky distilling, limited tourism and the production of Harris tweed are the basis of the islands' economy. The Isles are remote from the mainland in culture as well as distance - 68% of the population are Gaelic speakers.
Politics here are based on personalities rather than political parties. The parliamentary seat of Western Isles is currently held by Calum MacDonald for the Labour Party but his success has more to do with his own personal appeal than Labour's policies. Almost all of the local councillors are independents, although Labour did win four seats at the 1994 local elections. In 1979 this region was the most enthusiastic about devolution but recent polls suggest the islanders may share the worries of the inhabitants of Orkney and Shetland i.e. that a parliament dominated by representatives from the central belt might do little to protect the interest of the island communities.
Results of 1979 referendum:
ICM/Scotsman poll published on 22 August 1997:Question: Should there be a Scottish Parliament?
Question:Should a Scottish Parliament have tax-varying powers?
(Total Sample Size: 1,001, Fieldwork: 19-20 August 1997)
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