…is to go on the attack. Positive Yes advocates all scunnered by result? Unionists looking like they may waver of last-minute promises? Ordinary folk appalled by right-wing hoodlums making a battlefield out of peaceful George Square? Don’t get mad; get even.
Scots hold Geordies in high regard—not least as they suffer the same neglect and cultural misunderstanding as the Scots? The feeling is mostly reciprocated— there are strong currents of dissent; rejection of the the milky-weak devolution warmed up by John Prescott a decade ago is not a fair measure of their dissatisfaction. This attitude can be found as far south as Yorkshire, although it does not penetrate far on the west side of the Pennines—Carlisle seems to feel as loyal and English as Tunbridge Wells.
But cosy up to the eastern border and you find citizens in the former District of Berwick (now subsumed into a distant, much-resented monolith of Northumberland County Council) to be less than happy about their fate. They have a hinterland that is 75% Scots but don’t get their free prescriptions, tuition fees, bus passes, personal care, etc.
So, after two years in which English high panjandrums from Cameron down rolled north to preach against the blasphemy of kilted heathens who don’t see warm beer and Pimms while watching the cricket as the pinnacle of civilisation, it’s time for payback. It’s time for something to rattle their “plucky union jack overcomes odds yet again” triumph, set their teeth on edge and rekindle the alarm and despondency (especially among Tories) that plagued them in the run-up to Thursday? Let’s do something radical.
Let’s invite Berwick back into Scotland.
It’s not like there’s no precedent. After Edward II lost at Bannockburn what his Longshanks dad had won, not only did Scots retrieve Berwick but something close to peace reigned into the 1400s while our English cousins staged the English Civil War, Part I (also known as the War of the Roses). Four cities in Scotland flourished, including Berwick and Roxburgh, mostly from trade with the Continent that was much easier to conduct by sea in those days. Far from being on the edge of the world, Scotland was a major supplier of raw materials to the Hanseatic League and the Low Countries. Berwick was focal in all that.
But its name was South Berwick—to distinguish it from its smaller ferry port namesake up on the Forth. Back then, the Border was an elastic concept, running from the end of the Cheviots to roughly Holy Island; Alnwick and Rothbury were definitely English; Norham and Spittal were not; in between was anyone’s guess. Repeated wars switched Berwick itself between the two countries 13 times, becoming English when Elizabeth I built its still-extant magnificent town fortifications to replace the castle (eventually demolished to make way for the station in 1850). It’s long overdue to switch back.
Berwick is closer to the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, than to the North East’s regional centre of Newcastle upon Tyne. That Berwick is Scottish is reinforced by the fact that most commercial banks in the town are Scottish and Berwick Rangers plays in the Scottish league. Dialect also leads to the belief that Berwick is Scottish as, to most Englishmen, the local `Tweedside’ accent spoken sounds Scottish
Local residents today regard themselves as independent `Tweedsiders’ or `Berwickers’, rather than English or Scottish. In fact until the Reform Act of 1885 Berwick did have a considerable degree of independence with the status of a `Free Burgh’ meaning that it had to be mentioned separately in Acts of Parliament. But the abolition of Berwick District recommended by the Boundary Commission in 2004 and executed in 2009 have left them feeling run by outsiders with scant sympathy for their unique position.
Assuming the local population like the idea, what would a redrawn boundary mean? The whole of the old Berwick District would have the border run from The Cheviot roughly East, passing 5-6 miles North of Alnwick to hit the sea between Seahouses and Dunstanburgh Castle (it would not include the RAF ASR base at Boulmer). An alternative is that the border instead of heading East should follow the line of the Cheviot border slanting NE past Wooler and Belford to reach the sea near Budle Bay.
In either case, some 25,000 people would become Scottish citizens, enjoying advantages the other 5.25m already do. It would lend itself to solving a longstanding problem of civic incoherence in Scottish Borders. Spinning Berwickshire out of Scottish Borders to join with Berwick and its formerly English hinterland could form a 33rd Scottish local authority, one that had a major town at its focus, excellent rail connections N & S and a far better chance of encouraging coherent development and growth of the lower Tweed valley.
Quite apart from the sheer logic of having a town and its hinterland be in the same country, it would eliminate cross-border nonsense, such as English involvement in Tweed water quality because they control 10 miles of its bank or futile arguments about which roads authority repairs the Coldstream/Cornhill bridge. All this is conceivable without independence and would still be a shot in the arm to Scots at this emotional time.
Oh—and bringing the old English East March north of the border would also move the maritime border between Scotland & England in the North Sea south by about 50 miles—giving the Scots 95% instead of 90% of the oil. Don’t tell the English but if we bribe the Berwickers with some of that increment this could all be self-financing.