SNP aims to conquer Little England

John Arlidge joins the nationalist campaign trail in a search for unlikely votes
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Indy Politics
Painted on the front door of Peter Findlay's farmhouse on the banks of Loch Ness is the defiant Scots nationalist slogan: "So long as 100 of us live, we will not yield to the English."

It is ironic, then, that the Scottish National Party candidate in the Highland seat of Fort Augustus spends most of his time wooing voters from south of the border.

So many "white settlers" have moved into Fort Augustus in recent years in search of a better life that the area, 40 miles south of Inverness, is now known as "Little England".

Capturing the seat means winning English hearts and votes, and each morning Mr Findlay, a 60-year-old civil engineer, sets off to persuade the new arrivals to sever political links with the auld country.

First stop is Ness Bank cottage, the retirement home of Kenneth Craft, from Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Has he considered voting for Scottish independence?

"Not really. You see I worry whether the SNP has enough experience to run large councils. And what will happen to things like my pension if I vote SNP and it leads to independence? Will it still come from England? Will English people still be welcome round here?" On the doorstep, Mr Findlay is quick to reassure. "The SNP has a very good record in local government all over Scotland," he says.

"And we certainly have no intention of chasing anyone out of the country now or in the future. All English people can stay."

On to the hamlet of Dalchreichart and the most recent incomer. Alec Harris, 24, who gave up working in a warehouse in Wigan, Greater Manchester, last year to become a deer farmer, is more enthusiastic. "I have decided to make the Highlands my home. I now see myself as part of Scotland but I am not sure I am ready to vote SNP yet.

"Come back and see me next year, I might have changed my mind," he tells Mr Findlay.

In the village of Invermoriston, Essex woman provides Mr Findlay with his first votes of the day. June Curson, 62, who moved from Loughton to Fort Augustus 20 years ago and now runs the post office, admits that she has "gone native" and responds enthusiastically to Mr Findlay's "Have you ever considered . . . ?"

"Yes, absolutely. Put me down as SNP - and my husband, too," she tells him.

"We love it here and we have watched in recent years how badly the Tories have treated the Scots - over the poll tax, VAT on domestic heating, and now they are trying to privatise the water industry.

"No one deserves that kind of treatment. I think Scottish people should run their own affairs and we would be proud to live under a Scottish government."

The conversation gives Mr Findlay fresh encouragement that in Scotland's largest council constituency, which covers an area the size of Belgium with a population of just 210,000, the nationalists will capture one-third of the 72 seats.

He is hopeful that when voters fight through the snow next Thursday to reach the polling station at Fort Augustus village hall, Little England will vote for "a bigger and better Scotland".