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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