For Benny Wenda, Scottish vote is a chance to dream
Date September 19, 2014 - 2:09PM
Nick Miller Europe Correspondent
Edinburgh: Over a long night, through the wee hours, Scotland will count its referendum votes as an army of scrutineers keep an eye on proceedings.
Some of them are there out of passion, some out of concern, some for loyalty, some for civic duty.
But for Benny Wenda it is so he can dream.
"My dream is that in a peaceful way West Papua will have the right to choose their own destiny like Scottish people," he said. "[What] I am witnessing directly now, it gives me hope that one day it might happen to the West Papuan people."
Mr Wenda is one of West Papua's independence leaders, who lives in exile in England under political asylum after escaping an Indonesian jail - he had been convicted for leading an independence rally and raising the West Papuan flag.
But he felt drawn to Scotland for the referendum.
"This campaign is about my life," he told Fairfax in an Edinburgh cafe. "I want to learn, and see, and witness directly."
He is here for a practical reason – to see how it's done – but also on principle, to make sure the message gets back to his people and to Indonesia that it can and should be done.
The day before he had addressed a thousand-strong Yes campaign rally in Glasgow, where he spoke about his life and sang a song on freedom that he wrote in prison.
Mr Wenda has been in Britain for 11 years. He grew up in the jungle in West Papua's highlands, and his family were assaulted, and some killed, by the Indonesian military, he says.
From a young age he has dedicated himself to the West Papuan independence cause. A series of regional assemblies known as the Act of Free Choice were held to vote on relinquishing sovereignty to Indonesia in 1969, but these have since been condemned as neither free nor fair.
"This [Scottish referendum] is very different, there is no intimidation, no military on the street," he said. "There are no blockades or bloodshed. This is the peaceful way."
He hopes that, whether it results in Yes or No, the fact that the referendum was held will send a message to the Indonesian government, that "you witness [how to] give my people [the right] to choose their own destiny".
"I want the Indonesia government to learn what democratic values mean when they are fully implemented here."
He also hopes the sight of a Scottish vote will help bring Australia onside with his cause.
Mr Wenda got in touch with Scottish political group Radical Independence, which arranged for him to work as one of their scrutineers at the count.
Scotland's referendum has attracted separatist activists from across the world – regions such as Catalonia, Flanders, Kurdistan, Quebec and even Texas have flocked to Edinburgh. They're here to learn how it's done and to hitch their wagon to the most media-friendly independence story on the planet.
"If Scotland votes 'yes,' it will be an eye-opener for many people," Mark Demesmaeker, a Flemish member of the European Parliament, told The New York Times. "It's a democratic evolution that is going on in different states of the European Union."
Mr Wenda said it was an honour to have a small part in the referendum.
On Wednesday in Glasgow he held up the West Papuan flag – and was overjoyed by the sight of so many Saltires waving alongside it.
"There is no restriction, no prison," he said. "My flag-raising in Papua was 15 years in prison.
"[This] is really touching with emotion. One day this flag can be raised forever in West Papua."