Scotland politics

Independence campaigners pitch up for Holyrood vigil

Image caption Moira Williams and Jördi McArthur organised the camp on the doorstep of the Scottish Parliament

A group of campaigners has set up camp outside the Scottish Parliament calling for a second independence referendum. BBC Scotland political reporter Philip Sim visited the camp to learn more about it.

"We're prepared to stay here for five years."

Camping may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of winter in Scotland. But for the campaigners setting up on the doorstep of the Scottish Parliament, this may only be their first of many winters braving the elements in Edinburgh.

The People's Voice group plan to keep their Edinburgh vigil, dubbed IndyCamp Live, manned constantly until the day Scotland declares independence from the UK.

The campaign is pitched as a continuation of the Democracy for Scotland vigil which saw a hardy band of campaigners spend more than five years camped at the Calton Hill calling for a referendum on devolution between 1992 and 1997.

The present-day campers also take inspiration from the Declaration of Arbroath, which noted that "as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we be on any condition brought under English rule".

Those who pitched their tents in the shadow of Arthur's Seat over the weekend don't number anywhere near a hundred, but they are hopeful that more will join their cause.

Image copyright NAtional Museums Scotland
Image caption The camp is based on a similar vigil held for five years during the 1990s campaign for devolution

Some head off to work during the day or join the camp at the weekends, while others stay on in shifts to make sure the vigil is maintained around the clock.

Organiser Jördi McArthur said: "We've got a good hard core of people who are prepared to put up with the weather.

"At the moment there are nine or ten of us, but there are more coming.

"There are even people walking past who live locally who talk about coming to join us - just the weather isn't on our side at the moment."

Second referendum

As in 1992, the camp has been set up in the wake of a Conservative general election win stirring discontent north of the border - albeit in 2015, one which also saw the SNP record a near-sweep of Scottish seats.

The party itself has been coy about the prospect of a second referendum, with leader Nicola Sturgeon refusing to be drawn on what could trigger a push for another poll, preferring to focus on wider electoral goals ahead of next year's Holyrood vote.

But camp organiser Moira Williams said the thumping nationalist win recorded in May, together with claims that the referendum promises known as the Vow have not been delivered, are reason enough for a second plebiscite.

She said the camp is their way of demonstrating that the will of the Scottish people is behind independence, with the fact they pitched up in late November extra evidence of their dedication.

Image caption Organisers say they have accepted the result of the 2014 referendum, but are calling for a second poll

While she and Mr McArthur voiced scepticism about the outcome of the 2014 referendum, with talk of "shenanigans" and "evidence of rigging", they have accepted the result - for now.

She said: "If the government accepts that then we will accept that, but what we will say is that since then things have not went the way we were promised.

"Now the Vow has been broken, and the Scotland Bill has gone the way it has, along with English Votes for English Laws.

"I've spoken to people who deeply regret their No vote, particularly pensioners. They feel like they were conned or scared into it with threats to their pensions.

"So many things broken, and so many people with regrets.

"If you look at the election this year, the SNP won a landslide. So things have definitely changed for people.

"Anyway, we'll do our vigil here and burn a fire for independence, and we'll see what happens."

Image caption The camp sits at the foot of Arthur's Seat, near the Scottish Parliament

The camp has already been visited by security staff from the Scottish Parliament. The organisers say they are on good terms with them and have had no problems from them - although a Parliament spokesman later said the group did not have permission to occupy the land.

He said: "The Scottish Parliament recognises the importance of peaceful protest in a democratic society, however in seeking to occupy this land the protestors are preventing others from using this public space.

"We have advised the protesters that they do not have permission to camp on the Parliament's property. We are continuing to monitor the situation and are considering our next steps."

'However long it takes'

Potential issues with Parliament security aside, the main challenge for the campers may come from the Scottish climate, with Edinburgh battered by rain, sleet and wind throughout the first days of camping.

Ms Williams made it through the weekend with her dogs keeping her warm - one of which is due to have puppies on Christmas Day, which may interrupt her attendance at the vigil briefly - and she is confident the campers can stick it out in all conditions.

She said: "We made it through the weekend - I made it through warm.

"Winter camping is the new trend anyway. We were asked to show the will of the Scottish people, so I can't think of any better way of proving it.

"We're prepared to camp in any weather, and to do it for however long it takes."

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