YES groups have teamed up to organise a “first of its kind” independence festival in the Highlands.

Indy supporters will gather for the three-day Manniefest event in Golspie, which will see a host of artists, poets and speakers perform in the Sutherland village.

Among those set to perform includes National columnist Lesley Riddoch, Saor Alba Pipes and Drums, Yes Bikers and Alf Baird.

The festival is named after the Mannie statue, a 100ft high monument of the first Duke of Sutherland.

The Duke, George Leveson-Gower, is notorious for his major role in the Highland Clearances, where a significant number of Highland and Island tenants were forcibly evicted from their homes in the 18th and 19th centuries.

There have been calls for the statue to be taken down over the years, but all have so far proven unsuccessful.

Riddoch, a key speaker at Manniefest, said the event is a “historic” one while Yes groups hoped it would reignite enthusiasm within the movement.

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Riddoch told The National: “Since most land on the Western Isles is now community owned, it would be easy to underestimate the significance of a simple pro-indy gathering in the shadow of the Duke of Sutherland's statue, on Scotland's more populous east coast.

“In fact the gathering is historic - as anyone with family connections to the Grey Coast can testify.

“Caithness writer Neil Gunn gave that name to Straths between Tain and Wick that were cleared by the Mannie and his wealthy neighbours in the 19th-century.

“Such is the enduring grip of the aristocracy in Caithness and Sutherland that the Duke's actions and legacy have not really been questioned before - at least not in public, in daylight, in the village at the foot of Ben Bhraggie and the Duke's looming monument.

“This gathering and that moment are long overdue.

Lorraine Wilson agrees, saying the festival will be a chance for the movement to come together.

The Yes Ross Sutherland admin, who is one of the organisers hosting the event, told The National: “We want to bring people together. A lot of people have lost enthusiasm and there’s been a lost of division in the Yes movement recently.

“So I think it was just something to just bring everyone together and try and fire up that enthusiasm again.

“It’s going to be a great event and it’s going to be good to meet up with people again that we haven’t had a chance to for such a long time because of Covid. It’s a chance to get everyone together.”

She said the initial plan was quite small until Yes Sutherland got together with Yes Caithness to organise a much larger event.

The National:

Ian Sinclair, a member of Yes Caithness, said an indy festival like this has never taken place before in the Highlands.

He told The National: “We want to raise awareness really and to get something going again after lockdown. The independence movement seemed on its knees and the marches were dying off so we thought something different may work.

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“It’s being held at the big statue of the Duke of Sutherland, a massive thing 100ft tall. He was responsible for much of the Highland Clearances which has left the Highlands in the state it is today: partially populated with low employment and all the problems associated with the Clearances. He’s been there for years looking over the place.

“He’s basically a symbol of oppression of working people by the aristocracy.”

Sinclair said the feeling for Yes hadn’t changed but in his area but he’s hoping that events such as Manniefest will change that. “We’re trying our best to keep this alive,” he said.

“So I've been delighted to help edit material for a Manniefest National special, chuffed that the Scottish Independence Foundation has backed the project so freelance writers and cartoonists can be paid and looking forward to the day. Do please come if you can.”

The festival will run over three days between June 3-5 and is set to announce more acts. Tickets are £5.98 and can be purchased here: