SCOTTISH Secretary Michael Forsyth yesterday launched a blistering attack on critics of the controversial Skye Bridge.
Speaking at the official opening, Mr Forsyth described the £24million structure as "a major success for Scotland" and a boost for tourism and business in the area.
His comments came as the opening met with muted applause while a party atmosphere accompanied the end of the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry service from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin.
The bridge has made a huge difference to people's lives on Skye.
Critics claim the toll charges for the bridge - at £5.20 for a car and £37.50 for a coach in the high season from May to September - are too high.
They also say bad weather could close the bridge in winter and have called for the ferry to be retained.
Last week, cracks were revealed in the structure. Speaking in Kyle yesterday, Mr Forsyth, who was celebrating his 41st birthday, said that the tolls meant the bridge could be paid for in 14 years.
He said: "If the ferry was allowed to continue and take away money from the bridge, it would simply mean tolls would be charged for longer.
"Anyone who wants to run a ferry in order to keep tolls for longer needs their head examined.
"We would have to charge tolls until the crack of doom if that happened. The bridge is a better deal for the Highlands and the people that live locally.
A ferry in action between Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin in July 1973.
"I am sure this will be good for Skye and good for tourism."
About 200 spectators, including a handful of protesters and about 100 guests, braved the wind and rain at the Kyle toll booth for the official ceremony.
The 15-strong Skye Pipe Band, led by Pipe Major Ronald Monk, played tunes including The Men of Skye, When the Battle’s O’er and The Green Hills of Tyrol.
As Mr Forsyth approached the platform to speak, kilt-wearing independent protester lan McKemmie (37), of Windygates, Fife, held up a placard saying “Forsyth the Scottish Quisling”, referring to the Norwegian Nazi collaborator.
He said: "The bridge is a breach of the Treaty Union because no such charge is levied south of the Border. Why should Scots be taxed in this way?"
Another man, who did not wish to be named, shouted to Mr Forsyth: "When are you going to take the tolls off the Skye Bridge? It is absolutely ridiculous what you are doing to us here."
But Highland Regional Council convener Duncan McPherson said: "I am sure the bridge will be a benefit for the community of Skye and Lochalsh."
The bridge was officially opened by 10-year-old Steven Campbell, of Rattigan Kintail.
Steven and 25 schoolmates from Loch Duich Primary won a competition on the history of bridges.
He cut a commemorative blue ribbon to allow a stream of traffic, led by Mr Forsyth and including a collection of antique cars, to drive across.
Tolls were in place on the bridge until they were abolished in December 2004.
Steven said: "I'm glad the bridge is open because it will mean I can go to Skye more often."
The opening of the bridge was followed by the last ferries from Kyle and Kyleakin.
The Loch Fyne and the Loch Dunvegan were full to capacity as 500 passengers made the final crossings.
A cheer went up as the ferries crossed in the Kyle of Lochalsh. People sang the Skye Boat Song and the pipe band played on.
Harry Slater, who owns a coffee shop in Kyleakin, said: "This is a really a very sad day but I don't think the ferry will disappear.
"I am sure when the weather gets bad the bridge will close and we will need the ferries again."