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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

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Mixed views on whether Scotland should go it alone

Nothing much changes when you cross the Scottish border. No passport control. No chance of being turned back if your surname doesn’t start with ‘Mc’.

Nick Stewardson photo
Nick Stewardson from Gretna Bakery

In years to come, even if Scotland breaks away from the UK, English and Scots will still progress north and south unimpeded. But culturally, economically and emotionally, both countries could be very different.

Two days ago Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond unveiled his plan for an independence referendum.

Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), claims independence would give Scotland financial tools such as corporation tax and oil revenues.

He said: “Our nation is blessed with national resources, bright people and a strong society. We have an independent education system, legal system and NHS... I believe that if we connect the wealth of our land to the wellbeing of our people, we can create a better country.”

A Scottish Government consultation paper now seeks the public’s views on what the referendum ballot paper should say. Salmond wants to ask voters: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”

He also wants to offer them the option of increasing the Scottish Parliament’s powers, short of independence.

Salmond wants the referendum held in autumn 2014. The UK government wants it sooner.

While the details are being debated, the essence is clear. Should Scotland go it alone? And what would that mean for Scotland and its closest neighbour?

On the day of Salmond’s speech The Cumberland News visited Gretna to gauge what those who live and work on the frontline think about this war, and whether it should be fought at all.

Nick Stewardson owns Gretna Bakery on Central Avenue, the town’s main shopping street. He is from Carlisle and lives in the city. This is typical of the cross-border pollination found along the boundary.

What does Nick think about Scottish independence?

“The whole thing is just a farce,” he says. “What is there to gain? You get the diehard Scots that would still have the Roman wall up. But they can never come up with a sensible argument. It’s all rhetoric.

“I’ll tell you what – don’t ask the Scots if they want independence. Ask the English. The Scots get more from the UK government than the English.”

He is referring to the Barnett formula, a Treasury mechanism which adjusts the amounts of public spending for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. About £1,500 extra per year is spent for each person in Scotland compared to England.

“If you look at Europe, the EU is all about countries coming together,” says Nick. “England and Scotland came together 300 years ago and have worked very well together. The days of fighting each other went out with the Jacobites.

“If the Scots want to dress up in tartan and eat haggis, that’s fine. We’ll bash sticks together and go Morris dancing. No problem.

“But economically, independence makes no sense. Alex Salmond will talk about Scottish oil but who says where they’re going to draw the line to drill it?”

Nick thinks the debate will be decided by Scotland’s heavily populated central belt. He says things have always been different on the border.

His claim that “there’s endless winding-up in here but it’s all just banter” appears justified by the chorus of laughter from the staff – Scottish and English – which has accompanied his tirade against independence.

A couple of doors down, Ian Bryson at J Kerr and Sons Butcher is also against Scotland going it alone. Does he know anyone who’s in favour?

“Aye, the barmpots running the country.”

Ian, a Scot, believes his country has its own north-south divide. The further from England you go, the stronger the nationalism.

In last May’s Scottish Parliament election, support for the SNP was stronger in the north. In the North East district: 52.7 per cent. In the South: 41 per cent.

The Galloway and West Dumfries constituency, which includes Gretna, elected a Conservative.

“It’s all right if you live in the Highlands and Islands,” says Ian. “They [the Scottish government] give them BBC Alba [the Gaelic TV station] even though there’s only four per cent of Scots that speak Gaelic. Why would we vote for them?”

Any doubt that this is still Scotland is dispelled when a woman comes in and buys haggis for Burns Night.

So the butcher and the baker both say no to independence. Gretna’s candlestick-maker is unavailable for comment.

Another cluster of anti-independence voices is heard at the bar of The Gretna Inn. The accents are the Gretna cocktail of Scottish and Cumbrian.

Kevin Ingram is English but he lives in Gretna, and works in Carlisle. “We’re all British. People wouldn’t vote for independence.”

A different view comes from a middle-aged woman at Gretna Gateway shopping outlet. “I think it’s a good thing. It could work if the oil money comes to Scotland.”

Walking through Gretna Gateway’s main parade, you could be anywhere. Only a thistle pattern on the signs gives a clue. Around the corner the Visit Scotland information centre offers a stronger hint to your location, with Lion Rampant car stickers and tartan sheep fridge magnets.

A sign in a window display of tea and shortbread offers some sound advice for all concerned: ‘Don’t panic. Keep calm. Have a mug of Scottish tea.’

A few hundred yards up the road is the village of Gretna Green, the UK’s wedding capital.

Many happy unions have been made here. And many have later come apart, although none after 300 years.

Pam Nixon is here to buy supplies for a Burns Night she is hosting. Pam was born in Dundee and now lives in Wetheral, having spent most of her life in Cumbria.

“I don’t think independence would be a good idea,” she says. “I can’t see any advantages. It might sound good in theory but the logistics would be very complicated.

“When it comes to a vote I don’t think it will go through. I think the majority will err on the side of caution. I’m proud of being Scottish. But that’s a Scotland that’s part of Great Britain.”

At The Whisky House, part of the Blacksmith Exhibition Shop, loyalties are clear. A map on the wall shows Scotland’s distilleries. England does not exist. Scotland stands alone, cut off at the border.

John Davidson works here and his views match the map’s. “I don’t think independence would make any difference for the business but it could be good for Scotland.

“I think we’ve been kind of clinging to England’s coat-tails for too long. I think Scotland is strong enough to stand by itself.

“The set-up of Britain has always persuaded Scotland that it’s less than it is.

“If you look at the majority of scientific and medical inventions, they are Scottish. But that gets bypassed.

“Possibly national identity has become a bit of a fudge. If you asked Scots what the national identity is, a lot probably couldn’t say.”

John will vote for independence but he has doubts about his countrymen’s resolve. And he questions his own motivations. Are they economic? Political? Or is the movement driven by heart rather than head?

“Scotland has a lot of romance to it that other countries don’t have,” he says. “Am I influenced by that romance?”

Just one more thing: John, proud Scot that he is, confesses to being “technically English”. He was born in Cumbria, where his mother was at the time.

“But you wouldn’t mistake me for an Englishman, would you?”

Definitely not. Although John’s situation is another example of the cross-border links which characterise the area where England and Scotland merge.

The urge for independence, rather than being strongest where the enemy is at the gates, seems to barely register here.

Perhaps because the enemy is family, colleagues, friends.

Have your say


Look up Scottish Enlightenment. I'm sure you'll agree we were pretty well ahead of the curve on everything.

Scotland was the first country since Sparta in classical Greece to introduce public education. Education was made compulsory for the first time in 1496. Then in 1561 the Church of Scotland started a campaign for a school in every parish that taught a wide range of subjects for the very first time. When I was leaving school employers always wanted employees to have Scottish Highers before English A levels.

Some of the written words in the Scottish declaration of Arbroath Were the ideas in the forming of the American constitution. Many of the key Signatures on the declaration of Independence in America were of Scots descent. It is said that the Presbyterian preacher from Paisley, John Witherspoon was the one who included the last sentence on that document. It was he who encouraged the words god blesses America that still gets used today.

In truth Dan, the Scottish enlightenment is probably the theory behind the political structures of today. It was a movement whose ideas were used throughout the world at that time by some of the greatest thinkers in the free world. It created what’s known today as a civil society right across Europe and beyond by great thinkers like Hegel, Schiller and Goethe.

By 1750 we were the most literate citizens in Europe and this was quickly followed by rapid advances in philosophy, politicaleconomy,engineering,architecture,medicine,geology,archaeology,law,agriculture,chemistry and sociology.

The vote in Scotland is a sham and a circus because it is a rigged vote and yet we still use it to the best we can. We vote anything but Tory in a general election and then who we really like in a Scottish election.

The sad fact of the matter is we wouldn’t even be talking about the break up of the UK if only the English middle and working class would fight and stand up for what they believe in. Instead they leave that to their kids with the student fees and the poor when they torched London. They watch like a bunch of soccer mums cheering from the sidelines as their NHS and their working and human rights gets destroyed.

Never before in political history, has the HQ of any political party been trashed like the Tory HQ was and that was within 6 months of David Cameron becoming Prime minister.

If the English voters would only stand up to this greed and self interest from middle England politics then the UK would be a better place. Combine this with the fact that New Labour and their Tory values deserted the Scottish voter and their social democratic values, and then Independence would never have been an issue.

However, this isn’t the case and the English upper classes are easily winning the political fight south of the border because you won’t fight back. Therefore, as a country we have no choice but to leave. We leave in the hope that we can build ourselves a better country, with a parliament that we can hold to account and take responsibilities for their actions.

The Scottish people don’t want to live in a country that is ruled by a party that only have 11% of the vote and whose parliament is rigged to always be a coalition government. I truly hope neither would any English person.

Posted by Dek Henry on 25 February 2012 at 08:41

The End of the Union (Jack) Flag... If the Scottish first minister later ever accepted the Euro as currency for Scotland would'nt it effect all the borders shopping in Carlisle. It would vice-versa effect, where and when I spend my pounds, with up and downs of the currency markets with the varied dollar rate as an example.

Dan, Dan: Alexander Graham Bell certainly was influentially a step ahead in showing his new telephone instrument to Queen Victoria at I believe the IOW. He was however not the first in developing the instrument but may have shown the commercial viability when the British post office telegram seen it as a threat to its future and was forced to adapt it. British Telecommunications,.. soon enforced name change Scottish Telecommunications?

What else will come out of Scotland? Mass emigration where they know where their bread and butter will be. PM is right in giving rules on their vote which should include those resident temporary in another country. If vote at 16 (instead of 17) then is this new age to perhaps undertake national service call up in Scotland?

Posted by Roy on 16 February 2012 at 10:59

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