Racists have been warned to stay away from Ben Nevis after a far-right group unfurled a “white lives matter” banner at the top of Scotland’s highest mountain peak on Sunday.
Politicians, anti-racism campaigners, environmentalists and mountain rescue experts united to condemn the action by Patriotic Alternative, a UK white-nationalist group founded by Mark Collett, the British National party’s former director of publicity.
Witnesses at the summit told the National newspaper that more than 20 members of the group were booed by shocked climbers as they produced the huge banner, with one individual holding a saltire and another waving a flag featuring the Patriotic Alternative symbol.
John Stevenson, the leader of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, which covers Ben Nevis, said: “We don’t need this type of political protest on the mountain – especially when it reflects such appalling views. We don’t need these kind of people climbing Ben Nevis for this purpose. They should stay away.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, who represents the constituency of Ross, Skye and Lochaber, where the mountain is located, described the reports as “utterly abhorrent”.
“When it comes to racists and racism, we must be unequivocal in calling out this hatred wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head. These racists are not welcome here,” he said.
Blackford added: “The police force in the Highlands is very much community focused and I will be speaking to them to see what can be done.”
The action appears to have been prompted by a competition between regional groups, featured on the group’s website, to create an image of a “white lives matter” message in a memorable location ahead of their “indigenous people’s day” on 9 August.
The anti-racism group Hope Not Hate has previously described Patriotic Alternative’s presence in Scotland as “tiny”, but warned that more broadly the group has “managed to begin to unite elements of the notoriously splintered and fractured UK fascist scene”, in particular actively targeting younger recruits online.
Nav Bakhsh, the co-founder of the Glasgow-based Asian hiking group Boots and Beards, which aims to “bring colour to the hills”, said the weekend’s events had made members very uneasy.
“Since we set up five years ago, our challenge has been to encourage the BME community to go out and explore Scotland,” said Bakhsh. “Now people are not only worried about health and safety in the hills but whether they will get abuse thrown at them. We’ve tried to calm nerves and explain this is a very small group.”
Bakhsh also raised concerns about the many foreign tourists at the summit who may have seen the banner. “What message does that give about Scotland, to say that the country is only for white people? We need tourists, especially now.”
The John Muir Trust, which owns much of Ben Nevis, said it had been contacted by members of the public who were on the mountain at the weekend, and witnessed what they understood to be a promotional video being filmed by the far-right group.
“We are deeply angered by the actions taken at the top of Ben Nevis over the weekend, from an extremist far-right group appearing to use the Ben as a backdrop for their abhorrent racist propaganda,” said the trust in a statement.
“The John Muir Trust promotes diversity and inclusion in the outdoors. We did not and would not authorise permission for a film on our land that is counter to our belief that wild places are for all. The John Muir Trust has zero tolerance to discrimination, and any actions that promote discriminatory views are not welcome on the land we manage.”