Scottish question, from the vantage point of a border town

Updated - November 16, 2021 09:51 pm IST

Published - September 15, 2014 02:19 am IST - BERWICK-UPON-TWEED (ENGLAND):

This is England’s northernmost town, and it has changed hands between the Scots and the English more than a dozen times in the past 1,400 years. It hasn’t been a true border outpost since the unification of the two countries more than 300 years ago, but it may soon become one again.

Anxiety in the air

And the people of Berwick, many of them of Scottish origin, are not too happy about it, fearing the uncertainty and instability that could disrupt a feeble economic recovery. The opinion polls are close, the debate is exhausting and the mood is anxious.

“People feel and fear that however it goes, the relationship between Scotland and England will never be the same,” said Tom Forrester, a town Councillor.

“My heart tells me that most right-minded people will see that it is safer and better for us to stay in this relationship with each other,” said Liz Murray, who owns a shop that sells cookware in Berwick but lives across the border in Scotland. “But I’ve seen enough of the passion of the Scots to see that that might carry the day.”

A Scottish vote for independence on Thursday would create huge waves on both sides of the border, shaking the British government of Prime Minister David Cameron, undermining the electoral future of the British Labour Party and making it more likely that Britain will have a referendum on its own continued membership in the European Union (EU). An independent Scotland would raise questions about currency and finance, about where to base Britain’s fleet of nuclear submarines, about border security in a period of terrorism, about whether Scotland would still get BBC television and about whether members of Parliament from Scotland, the vast majority of them from the Labour Party, would lose their seats.

It would be an enormous victory for the Scottish National Party (SNP) and its leader, Alex Salmond, and would kick off a difficult 18 months of negotiations with the British government about the terms of the divorce, which would become official in March 2016.

But should the Scots vote against independence on Thursday, said Dougie Watkin, a farmer with land and sheep on both sides of the border, “half the population will be very disappointed.”

The leaders of the three main British parties have promised all kinds of new powers for Scotland if the Scots do vote no. Even so, if the margin proves to be narrow, the issue of independence, as in Quebec, is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

‘Pour love, not fear’

Even in Berwick, with a population of 15,000, the questions range from the effects on trade and immigration to whether small businesses would have to fill out two sets of tax forms and deal with two different currencies.

The ‘No’ campaign has tried to frighten the Scots on pocketbook issues, which patronises and infuriates them, when Mr. Cameron and his colleagues “should have been pouring love up north, and not fear,” Mr. Heald said.

Keith Siseman, who runs an art gallery with a liquor license called Pier Red, says Scottish independence would turn things “upside down.”

He also predicts further dissolution

“This is a happy family that could be getting divorced for no real reason,” he said. “And that’s scary, because it won’t end here. Because if the Scots get it the Shetland Islanders will want it, and we’ll end up with the United Nothing.” — New York Times News Service

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