16 Sep 2014

Tell it on the mountain: #IndyRef from the top of Ben Nevis

The buzz is the thing. That’s the huge achievement of the Scottish  referendum – people care , everywhere, about politics again.

Gone the indifference. Gone the cynicism of the non-voting hordes. Everywhere the chat. Everywhere the debate. Everywhere the engagement.

In the mists of Ben Nevis  summit the metal door of the bad weather refuge has four YES stickers. Each one either defaced or with a NO etched into it. Even up here in this sub-Arctic, rubble-rocky plateau. Even here.

“We are all watching in Madrid and in Barcelona,” a woman from Madrid with a Catalan father explains.

“I am so worried Catalans will go and separate from us. Yes – we are watching very carefully. If Scotland says yes, the Catalan separatists will become much, much stronger.

Quebec warning

Just off the summit we run into the group of hikers from Toronto we’d last seen as we set out, hours ago.

“Oh we’ve been through this time and again with Quebec,” one told me. They counsel darkly about economic costs, and one says:

“In Canada we had a lot of warnings from the government about the economic costs of Quebec going its own way. I don’t seem to hear that over here.”

Oh really? I tell him there’s been a tsunami of fear and warnings from London. He looks surprised.

As they leave us near the summit, hours later they quip about the biting wind and low cloud:

“See – if it’s a yes, the weather will always be like this in Scotland.”

They’ve learned much on their ascent, tapping into all the endless jokes and banter about how Loch Ness will dry up or Ben Nevis crumble to dust on Friday if it be yes.

Democratic dysfunction

Just over halfway up, three men repair the path with stone culverts for the John Muir Trust which looks after the mountain, the eldest 61 for what is surely the highest and one of the toughest jobs in what remains the UK for now.

An Englishman, Irishman and a Scot, they are yes to a man.

Above all else, it is the democratic dysfunction of a country which cannot elect representative government at general elections which rankles, as well it might.

“I just simply feel the time has come. We have to be able to run our own affairs. ”

Against that gut feeling thousands of feet up a mountain, the dire warnings of men who wear suits and run banks, supermarkets or insurance houses seem very, very distant indeed. Westminster itself feels like, well, a foreign country.

‘Who needs government?’

But should they be having a chat to the group of high-altitude Belgians we met a thousand feet further up, still in their shorts, up in the mists.

“Government? Who needs it? We had no government at all for about 500 days and everyone managed just fine.”

They begin avidly discussing the issues of Belgium separated along Flemish and Walloon lines and agree: “It is a big step – a very big step”.

Other Scots from summit down to the car park remain less than sold on independence. Many feel the heart says yes, but the wallet and the head are hesitant.

Too many ties to sever, and a warning that the campaign noise is deceptive, says one:

“It’s true the yes campaign has made the running, but I have so many friends who will all vote no but would never dream if saying so in public in any way at all.”

Showing solidarity

With aching feet and the sun sinking to the west over the glen, we meet one man who finally blends in one person our global and Scottish perspectives.

A passionate separatist from France – Lille – who is a Flemish separatist:

“I have come here as a passionate separatist to show my solidarity with my Scottish brothers and sisters who also seek independence.”

For so long this great mountain has been a place of global pilgrimage. But perhaps never before has the global debate about who we are and under what country we wish to live resonated quite like it does here right now.

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7 reader comments

  1. Mike Harland says:

    Thanks as usual for a balanced, entertaining and interesting report … so unlike certain BBC reporters whose personal views we can do without.

    The Catalan anecdote is certainly another red-herring: Artur Mas has already sunk his career, nearly sunk his own party and sunk any chances in what is a totally unconstitutional adventure going nowhere – the region is heavily in self-inflicted debt and the people are voting to keep what remains of their economy from the rest of Spain (like Germany with Europe), not their self-determination.

    More worrying here amongst the NO voters I have talked to is the intention of taking all their money out of the banks on Friday if it’s a YES, and even news that the banks have been moving millions of bank notes up here to Scotland to cover any panic. Totally loony, since we won’t separate from the UK for another two years at least, and any other such threats to the Scottish economy meanwhile will be an equal threat to the UK economy (cf. ‘facts’ about depleting oil reserves for Scotland, which would equally be depleting in the case of rUK). So many myths and so many uninformed voters.

    As a Yorkshireman here for 35 years I can only agree with the three ‘multinationals’ repairing the culvets up the mountain and go for democratic representative government – it has certainly nothing to do with party, religion, age or profession. Especially as we have heard no real hard facts from any side!

    1. Andrew Dundas says:


      Just like the Quebecers, the separatists will be back for a referendum again and again.

      What’s needed is a Party within Scotland that develops policies that brings everyone together, not policies that divide families and workmates all over our land.

  2. Val Wells says:

    You’ve felt it, Alex! It’s international. It’s inclusive. The defensive insularity of UK belongs to the past.

  3. Scottie says:

    Just heard a young man in Scotland say, “We haven’t had a government we voted for in 30 years”. Who did he vote for? Clearly not Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.

  4. Wilma Miller says:

    I wish that heart/head shorthand wasn’t used so much. It’s my Scotland too and I resent the implication that those of us voting No do not feel passionately about our land We care enough to weep at the absurdity of uncosted promises being made to every section of society regardless of the facts.

    As for being international the only ones who are attempting to erect more barriers are the yes lot. A global world and global finance realities just make their case even more unreal.
    Global they are not and neither will poor old Scotland be if they win. Your climbers might think so but there’s ample evidence that the attitude abroad has been to ask why a successful and beneficial union would be broken up! The only one who has supported it is the leader of North Korea

    As for voting for the government you wanted. I’ve never had one , being a Liberal voter but I do vote and always have done. However thinking about that one I wonder if the young man quoted could have been voting for Tommy Sheridan’s lot

  5. cinaed says:

    As someone living in England I can see both sides of the argument, however looking to the future I can see England becoming demographically a completely different country to what it is today, and the differences between Scotland and England will grow so this could be a golden opportunity for Scotland to strike out on its own

  6. Cinaed says:

    Just watched BBC2’s News Night and listened to the two sides debating and the guest’s opinions one thing that occurred to me that if Scotland decides to vote yes it doesn’t need to be that foreign as a country, think of the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands they have independence they are not even members of the EU but we don’t exactly consider them foreign may be Scotland could be the same, the rest of the UK and Scotland share the same island and could co- operate in many ways to their mutual advantage, it depends on how we see each other after a yes vote, even the Republic of Ireland after a violent separation in the nineteen twenties has grown closer in recent times.

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