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The Highland Line: why a Highland LibDem stalwart is voting Yes

The news that leading LibDem Dr Michael Foxley is going to vote Yes in next month's independence referendum somehow wasn't that surprising to many in the Highlands...only that he got round to announcing it before September 18.

It is not that the former GP and leader of Highland Council was widely known to back independence, it's just the strength of his anti-establishment instincts have long been recognised.

For all that, his party credentials are unimpeachable. He joined the old Liberal Party as a student in London in the 1970s, attracted by its agenda which he saw as potentially radical and a welcome alternative to those offered by Labour and the Tories.

He stood as an Independent Scottish Liberal when he was elected to the old Highland Regional Council in 1986, when very few saw party tickets as an advantage in getting elected to what was a decidedly independent council. Indeed, fellow Liberals used to ask him what exactly an Independent Scottish Liberal was.

He remained a councillor, mostly for Ardnamurchan and Morvern, for the next 25 years, although in his early years he also had the Small Isles of Eigg, Muck and Canna to look after as well. He was also twice top of the party's Highlands and Islands regional list for the Holyrood elections.

Foxley is also a long-time friend and associate of former party leader Charles Kennedy, who we hear is pretty relaxed about the good doctor's embrace of the Yes camp.

But Foxley has also worked closely with Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander who collected the President's Award on his behalf at the party's national conference in 2012 in Brighton in recognition of his "huge contribution" .

He couldn't attend because he was in Inverness, denouncing party colleagues in the Tory/LibDem coalition to the Commons Scottish Select Affairs Committee over the Crown Estate.

He was particularly close to the late LibDem MP for Argyll, Ray Michie, Baroness Michie of Gallanach, who was a devout "Home-Ruler" as all old Liberals were supposed to be. Dr Foxley has now gone further to embrace the independence cause, but says that had, what he calls, "Devo Max Max" been an option, he would probably be voting for that. It isn't, so it is Yes for him.

One of the early straws in the wind was his shock that the LibDems were willing to go into coalition with the Tories in Westminster in 2010, when they had found it unthinkable to do the same with the SNP three years earlier in Holyrood.

This despite there having been very little difference between the parties apart from the SNP's referendum commitment. This he believes could have been kicked into the long grass one way or anotherm given the SNP's minority position at the time.

He is known to lament the lost opportunity for his party to push the SNP harder on his cherished causes of land reform, Gaelic, crofting, and community ownership, not least of renewable energy projects. Now he sees a Yes vote as the way forward on these fronts.

So his conversion to independence has been more on the road to Drimnin than Damascus.

Dr Foxley wasn't the first Lib Dem with some prominence in the Highlands to declare for Yes. Perhaps more surprising was Alan MacRae, who stood in the Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch constituency at the 2011 Holyrood elections. A few weeks ago, he said he "can't think of a single good reason to vote No".

A native of Skyem he is the son of the celebrated GP Dr Calum Og MacRae who served the island for decades.

But there was something of an irony in Mr MacRae's move, given that his own election bid to become an MSP was seen to be pretty well scuppered by the man he was trying succeed, the late John Farquhar Munro, who had publicly endorsed Alex Salmond.

Howeverm Mr MacRae has insisted he remains "anti-SNP".

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