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'Respect the views of others': Golspie Community Council chairman Ian Sutherland speaks out as first-ever Scottish independence festival takes place in village this weekend

By Caroline McMorran

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The chairman of Golspie Community Council has urged those attending a festival in the village this weekend aimed at promoting the case for Scottish independence, to “respect the views of others”.

YES Ross Sutherland and YES Caithness - grassroots organisations not linked to any political party - have joined forces to organise the first-ever, three-day event, which features artists, poets, speakers, singers and bands.

Ian Sutherland, chairman of Golspie Community Council.
Ian Sutherland, chairman of Golspie Community Council.

It has been called “Manniefest” in a nod to the local nickname for the Duke of Sutherland’s statute on the top of Ben Bhraggie.

The statue of George Leveson-Gower the first Duke of Sutherland, who became notorious for the part he played in the Highland Clearances, has become a symbol of oppression with previous attempts to take it down by chipping away at its foundations.

Independence supporters are expected to make their way to the 100-foot high statue during the weekend, although this is not an official part of the programme.

However, there has been criticism locally of the YES groups' appropriation of the "Mannie" and also the timing with the festival being held during Platinum Jubilee weekend, celebrating the Queen’s remarkable 70th anniversary on the throne.

One Golspie resident, who did not want to be named, said: “People in Golspie are concerned about it (the festival) because of the focus on the village and the Mannie and the fact it is the Jubilee weekend.”

Community council chairman Ian Sutherland told the Northern Times: “We strive as a community council to be apolitical and unbiased. We are primarily concerned with the present and future welfare of the residents of the Golspie area, just like any other parochial community council.

“Obviously the fact that we have the statue of the 1st Duke of Sutherland on the summit of Ben Bhraggie that many regard as controversial, may arouse a level of debate between nationalist supporters, unionists and local residents this coming weekend.

“I would urge all attendees of Manniefest events to respect the opinions of others and to take advantage of our beautiful walks and beaches and the various events taking place in the village over the Jubilee/Manniefest weekend. Respect and enjoy!”

The festival kicks off tonight with music in MacGregor’s at the Ben Bhraggie Hotel, Golspie, but the main part takes place tomorrow afternoon in the Stag’s Head Hotel with talks from high-profile speakers.

The key speaker is broadcaster and journalist Lesley Riddoch who said the event was a “historic one”. Other speakers are Professor Alf Baird, an expert in ports, shipping and ferries; Alec Ross, who writes for the Orkney News; and Iain Lawson, a blogger and former ambassador to Estonia.

There will also be performances by artists and poets and from Saor Alba Pipes and Drums, the pipe band of Scottish Independence Yes Movement.

Members of Yes Bikers will be taking part in an “Independence Ride” tomorrow from Inverness to the emigrants statue at Helmsdale.

YES Caithness member Ian Sinclair said the idea of the festival had arisen during a discussion of what could be done to promote the independence cause, which he said had gone a bit “dead” after Covid.

Golspie was chosen because it was easier to get to for people from the south than Wick and Thurso. It is hoped some 200 people will be in attendance.

Mr Sinclair said:“Our main reason for choosing June 4, apart from the hope of good weather, was because it is a holiday weekend. Also, Lesley Riddoch is on her way back from the Orkney Folk Festival.

“A long holiday weekend in June is the perfect time for a festival, bringing visitors to Golspie.

“We also spoke to a member of Golspie Community Council who assured us that they had no problem with the event.

“We have permission from Highland Council to hold the open air part of the event in the school bus car park, behind the medical centre.

"The Saor Alba Pipe Band will lead a short procession from the fountain at the top of Fountain Road to the car park.

“Everybody is welcome. Take the kids. Bring a friend.”

The imposing Duke of Sutherland statue enjoys a commanding position on top of Ben Bhraggie.
The imposing Duke of Sutherland statue enjoys a commanding position on top of Ben Bhraggie.
Broadcaster and journalist Lesley Riddoch is the key speaker at Manniefest.
Broadcaster and journalist Lesley Riddoch is the key speaker at Manniefest.

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