Borders: more than just lines
Personally I’ve always felt a huge affinity with Scotland. When I was six my family spent a fistful of years holidaying in a caravan perched on Uncle Jim’s croft. We were marched through heather and bracken (no knowledge of its carcinogenic properties then), and along the rocky coast or sandy bays at least twice a day, rain or shine; Mum would give our hair a weekly scrub in the icy water from the standpipe; we doused our bodies in the freezing waters of Little Loch Broom which nestled at the sloping foot of the croft.
Subsequently, no doubt trying to recapture the magic of those carefree days, I traipsed London Daughter around Skye, Mull and Iona and took ‘finding–myself’ trips to a friend’s dilapidated castle beyond Thurso. And, when The Husband and I got together, Tiree became our family’s blustery holiday destination of choice – which is how we stumbled upon Berwick as a place to live.
When we arrived here 18 months ago, Berwick’s historicity was one of its attractions. A border town that had boomeranged between Scotland and England until finally resting in England in 1482 – it still seemed to echo with the ancient struggles, without actually currently partaking in them. Or so we thought.
I’ve been startled and fascinated by the strength of feelings surrounding the referendum here in Berwick – and the rationale behind them. Part of this has been, I suppose, my own coming to terms with the fact that I will always be seen as a southerner no matter which side of the border I am on. And another part is the fact that my own rather wishy–washy, lackadaisical attitude to the on–the–ground, cultural and non–political relationships between the countries and peoples is far from average.
I’ve always assumed that there is a benevolent respect and warmth between Berwickers and our siblings the Borderers. After all, people from across the border come and work in Berwick, and many who live in Berwick work in Scotland. When the 10–Year–Old needed to see a consultant I was delighted to be able to choose between hospitals in Scotland and England. How marvellous, I thought, isn’t that the way it should be? After all the toing and froing Berwick has experienced through history it seems to me somehow just that we have special status – the best of both worlds. But it’s way more complicated than that.
Some people I’ve spoken to are furious with Scotland for being ungrateful; others maintain it’s a case of good–riddance–to–bad–rubbish – the Scots, they say, have always hated the English and the time for them to go it alone can’t come quickly enough; some are anxious about the implications that Scottish independence might have on jobs and trade in Berwick – particularly if Mr Salmond takes Scotland into the Euro; others feel miffed about university fees and the fact that even though we’re a hop and a spit from the border we can’t benefit from fee–free Scottish universities; others believe that Alex Salmond’s strategy could be steering the Scots to a covertly preferred outcome of devo–max (roughly speaking more devolved powers for Holyrood but not full independence); and others see the breaking of the union that has held since 1707 as an abhorrent and retrograde step.
A recent poll suggests that Scottish support for independence is somewhere between 32–38% so the breaking up of the union maybe some way off. Nonetheless it’s pretty clear that things will change and, whatever the outcome of an independence vote, it will have a significant impact on Berwick and our relationship with our near neighbours.
A version of this article appeared in The Berwick Advertiser on February 2nd 2012