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Tourists head to Scotland ... for the big vote

THEY are the indyref tourists, a hardy band of holidaymakers so inspired by Scotland's big debate they are prepared to put up with our weather.

REALITY: The independence-themed package will include visits to the back streets of areas such as Govan, in Glasgow. Picture: Getty Images
REALITY: The independence-themed package will include visits to the back streets of areas such as Govan, in Glasgow. Picture: Getty Images

Such is interest in the referendum in Spain's potential breakaway nations of Catalonia and the Basque Country that a travel firm has launched its first independence-themed package tours.

Just as Scots head for the Costas to escape the rain - and debates on the finer details of currency and EU membership - Catalans and Basques will make the opposite journey to get their fill of constitutional change.

Boutique holiday firm Partizan Travel, of the Basque Country, will from July will offer nine and ten-day trips to Scotland.

For €1400, visitors will see parts of the country firmly off the itinerary of most tourists, including the schemes of Priesthill in Glasgow and the grimmer back streets close to the Govan shipyards.

Arturo Villanueva of Partizan Travel admits this is far from mass-market tourism.

He said: "We want to know about the reality of the countries we visit, not some plastic distorted tourist version.

"Our customer base is made up of progressive freedom-loving people. We are called Partizan Travel because we are partisan, we are not neutral.

"We come from a sympathetic point of view to the independence campaign in Scotland. We are not going to get to know about that, but about the history and the culture and the way of living in Scotland, but always from a pro-independence point of view."

The tour is designed to provide a warts-and-all experience of Scotland. So visitors will see the beauty of Glencoe, but also be told of the massacre that took place there. One particular destination will be included which is rarely on the itinerary for most tourists - the Gaelic college in Skye - as Catalans and Basques are particularly interested in language rights.

Other highlights include Culloden and Urquhart and Stirling Castles, Inverness, Oban and Edinburgh. One September tour will culminate in the capital on the day the referendum's results will be announced.

The tours are very much aimed at self-confessed political anoraks and will include numerous meetings with like-minded Scots.

But, however modest, the indyref tourists underline just how much interest there is in both the Basque and Catalan countries over the referendum.

Basque separatists, with their history of armed insurgency followed by a peace process, were traditionally focused on Ireland rather than Scotland. There is a strong tradition of political holidays for Basque independence supporters to Northern Ireland. That, Mr Villanueva said, has now changed.

He said: "Obviously Ireland was the great inspiration for the Basque cause for independence and also for the peace process over the past 15 or so years.

"I am not going to say that the interest in Ireland is lost but now, without doubt, Scotland is the main inspiration for the Basque pro-independence people.

"It's not just the mere fact of the referendum, but the way the pro-independence movement has moved from nationalistic point of view to a more broader and inclusive view."

A Glasgow SNP councillor, David McDonald, has agreed to help. "I am going to take them to my Pollok ward and talk about issues like poverty.

"They are very much going to see the other side of Glasgow."

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