IN Fort William last Friday afternoon, a gathering took place which captured many of the problems faced by Highland communities after the camper vans have departed. This was a meeting of the Glenfinnan Transport Summit, comprising around 30 representatives of local and national bodies concerned about how one of Scotland’s most glorious locations is being slowly suffocated by a relentless stampede of runaway tourists.

At various points in this tale the spirit of the age looms in the background: global marketing of the planet’s most successful film franchise; the fleeting sensory gratification from ‘experiences’ and the failure of national bodies to take ownership of the problem.

For many decades, the Glenfinnan Viaduct and the steam train service running the West Highland Line was just one of many visual treats that adorn these great wildernesses. Nearby lies the Jacobite monument, standing guard over Loch Shiel. The clachan of Glenfinnan is where the 1745 Jacobite rebellion rose. The ley-lines of Scotland’s glorious and bloody history all seem to cross here.

Yet, in the last two decades millions have come to know it as the Harry Potter railway line which ferried the boy wizard and his wee gaggle of enchanters to Hogwarts.

Among those who gather on the nearby hills to watch the steam train and turn every grass verge into a crude car park are many who think that Harry’s wizarding school really does lie furth of that great loch.

These places lie within Kate Forbes’ Skye, Lochaber & Badenoch constituency and, for three hours she hosts this meeting. The Glenfinnan residents, while appreciating the importance of these landmarks to the local and national economy, are in danger of being trampled where they sit by a ten-fold increase in tourist numbers.

There’s a delicate balancing act to be achieved here: how to maintain Scotland’s vital tourist destinations without turning swathes of the Highlands and Islands into sprawling car parks.

Afterwards, one of the participants approaches, curious as to why I’ve strayed so far beyond my Glasgow lair. He seems pleased that I’m taking an interest.

He points to Ms Forbes. “I don’t know of any other politician who would spend an entire afternoon chairing a meeting like this. In my experience they’d have either sent along a representative or made their excuses and left after a brief introduction.”

Earlier that day, Ms Forbes had presided at the opening of a new mountain biking trail in the hills above Laggan near Newtonmore. The Laggan Wolftrax experience is a vital component in an area which has endured levels of need more familiar to urban communities in the much more populous Central Belt, but without the economic infrastructure to address it. A nearby primary school has recently been mothballed, having seen its school roll dwindle to just two for the new term.

Next week a decision will be made which will have a crucial bearing on this community’s long-term future. Do they continue to maintain their school in the hope that affordable housing will be built to attract young families, or do they cut their losses and sell?

Many people in the Central Belt don’t immediately associate these beautiful places with poverty and deprivation: they exist merely as heathery idylls where couthy village-folk are always ecstatically happy living the dream amidst their Highland coos and their ceilidhs.

Once more, Kate Forbes emphasises the need for national policy-makers to become much more aware of the cultural and geographical nuances of the Highlands & Islands and places like Dumfries and Galloway.

She laments the two decades of missed opportunities since Alex Salmond talked about making Scotland the Saudi Arabia of renewables.

“I’ve never understood why you would celebrate a pound of public funding spent in Scotland creating jobs in another country,” she says. “There was too much excitement about the raw opportunity and not developing the jobs that went with it.

“Across the world, what sets apart small countries that excel economically is that they decide what will be their northern light and they go after it. You can’t perform well in everything. Scotland should be performing well when it comes to energy. But the performance doesn’t end with having a lot of wind. It ends with the fact that the turbines should be developed here. It requires a lot of government investment but this needs to be precise.

“This is where we failed with oil and gas. The road between Aberdeen and Inverness should be paved with gold after all the revenues that have been raised from this sector over the last 40-odd years. And yet, this week alone, we hear the A96 has been raised in parliament again because it’s such an atrocious road.”

I cheekily suggest that it doesn’t help when you have two Green ministers in government who have little clue about the effect of their plans on working-class communities. She refuses to take the bait and chooses her next words carefully.

“The Scottish Greens have a broad membership. I’ve had many dealings with them in our budget engagements and we always had our red lines. But I’m not in the Greens. I think some of the Green local members here get frustrated perhaps by the policies rather than by the party. I think you have to make a distinction between the party and their policies.

“In my budget engagements with them Andy Wightman was their lead negotiator. What he wanted to see was greater local democracy; more fairness. As a Government, we made concessions to the Greens not on identity matters but on core Green policies about democracy, taxation; fairness. That was the Green party that I recall engaging with.”

“Aye, but then they kicked him out,” I tell her of Wightman. And again she refuses the come-on.

“I think he’s a great loss, because there are very few radical but realistic thinkers in Scottish public life who have the intellectual depth to think through how their ideas can be applied and why they can transform lives. Andy Wightman is one of them.”

When I point out that much of the criticism aimed at her about her faith during the SNP leadership contest had come from Green activists she sticks doggedly to her wheesht. Wasn’t she hurt by some of the lies that were being used against her and the general ignorance about the Free Church of Scotland?

“Look, so many of the headlines and post-contest interviews have focused on the backlash about my beliefs. But this was to be expected and I anticipated it.

“What I found astonishing wasn’t that backlash, but the nature of support I received across all parties. I received literally thousands of letters and emails, including many from people who disagreed with my religious views.

"That was the main story for me: that there are enough people in Scotland who won’t tolerate infringement on freedom of speech; infringement on religious conscience and infringement of protected characteristics.

“Because if the Equality Act exists it must exist for every role in society. It doesn’t just exist for the cleaner or the teacher. Surely it also exists for the First Minister of Scotland or for those who aspire to be. Religious faith, as with other characteristics in the Equality Act, is protected. I was overwhelmed by the level of support I had.

“On the Friday after I launched my campaign I went to Tesco with some trepidation and then on Saturday I went to see Ross County. And, to a person, people were stopping me in the aisles and at the game and saying they were right behind me. It told me that however you are traduced in the public domain, the people of Scotland are smarter and more tolerant than that.

“They’ve thought these things through. They don’t like being gas-lighted. They think for themselves. I honestly believe that Scots are a people of independent mind. And they have a long memory too.”

Ahead of Thursday’s bellwether by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West she dutifully talks about unity of purpose and how the SNP gets enough criticism thrown at it from the opposition parties without internal dissenters adding to it.

And so, I provide the dissent. “Hasn’t the party been hollowed out by a host of insincere careerists measuring their pension pots and for whom ‘progressiveness’ is a lazy, feel-good alternative to improving the lives of real working people?”

I ask her why groups such as Common Weal, the Yes movement’s only effective think-tank, are despised by the party career-wing.

“Common Weal are one of the best, most thoughtful and best-researched organisations we have,” she says. “I often refer to their papers when I’m thinking through policies.

"What I love about them is that they’re pragmatic. I’m not someone who occupies an ethereal, ideological space. I have nothing but praise for the work that they do. I’d like a lot of their expertise to be used in the work of government; bringing in their people; accessing their resources. If you want an authentically radical policy prospectus then they’re your people.”

She’ll have to wait a long time before that happens. Unless, of course, she were to become leader in the near future. She’s smiling again.