Published: 29/10/2012 15:58 - Updated: 29/10/2012 16:23

More to Highland 'Yes' campaign than SNP, gathering suggests

Eleanor Scott: satisfied campaign is inclusive
Eleanor Scott: satisfied campaign is inclusive

FEARS that the SNP would dominate the 'yes' vote push in the Highlands, ahead of the historic independence ballot in 2014, have eased after the first campaign meeting in Inverness.

About 160 people from all over the region, including a clutch of high profile political figures, attended the Yes Highland event at the weekend.

It came only a fortnight after the Scottish and UK governments finally agreed the terms and date of the referendum after months of haggling.

The Yes Scotland organisation, which is headquartered in Glasgow, had stressed it was not led by the SNP but a pro-independence group involving people from all parties and walks of life.

However, the pro-independence Green Party, which has 140 members in the Highlands, only recently signed up to participate in the cross-party campaign because of concerns the SNP would dominate the proceedings.

Former Green regional MSP Eleanor Scott said she was far happier following the meeting in the city’s Spectrum Centre because her party viewed separation from the UK differently to the SNP.

"I am sufficiently convinced that it is inclusive," she said. "The majority of people were SNP members but there was a sizeable minority who weren’t. We support decentralisation and want to have government as close to the people as possible."

Among the audience were former Highland SNP MSPs John Finnie and Jean Urquhart, who dramatically quit the party in a row about NATO last week but still support independence, the energy minister and Highland MSP Fergus Ewing, the Caithness, Sutherland and Ross MSP Rob Gibson and Highland Council leader Drew Hendry.

Ken Gowans, convener of the SNP’s Inverness city branch, said Liberal Democrat and Labour members who believed in independence were also in attendance along with socialist party representatives.

"A lot of people might think it is a SNP campaign but it’s not, it’s more of a public movement featuring people from all parties and some who are not," he said. "About a quarter of the people there were not members of the SNP, they just believe in independence."

Mr Gowans said the campaign planned to use local supporters as "ambassadors" who would try and influence friends, neighbours and residents to vote yes while sub-groups for people with different interests could be formed.

"There is a whole bunch of people out there who are undecided because there are so many unanswered questions," said the Inverness councillor. "The next two years is important to have a substantive debate. One of the key things is to help people to set up say Anglers for Independence, Golfers for Independence groups and so on."

The rival pro-union Better Together campaign hosted a debate in Lochaber last Friday on the benefits of staying in the UK and Labour regional MSP David Stewart warned there was a real danger of voters being switched off by the lengthy battle ahead.

"It is a crucial constitutional vote but as one SNP member said to me they only need to get lucky once," said Mr Stewart.

*Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Loch Ness Monster has become embroiled in the yes vote movement.

The world famous monster, who attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the region ever year, has unwittingly become politicised. A children’s T-shirt has been produced by Yes Scotland which is emblazoned with the word "Yes" with a picture of a green Nessie-like creature.

Mr Gowans said the garment had proved popular with youngsters and his three-year-old daughter has been proudly wearing her Yessie.

But Mr Stewart said it was unfortunate Nessie had become involved because it showed the yes campaign was already sunk.

Yes Scotland is also selling retro Scotland football type T-shirts with the number 14 on the back while mugs, keyrings and shopping bags have also been made.

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