Fears hard border would lead to loss of language and culture of border region

Political leaders who live either side of the England-Scotland border say they are ‘deeply worried’ about the cultural, social and economic damage Scottish independence could cause to the region.

Saturday, 1st May 2021, 7:00 am
Political leaders who live either side of the England-Scotland border say they are ‘deeply worried’ about the cultural, social and economic damage Scottish independence could cause to the region.
Political leaders who live either side of the England-Scotland border say they are ‘deeply worried’ about the cultural, social and economic damage Scottish independence could cause to the region.

While political debate around a potential ‘hard border’ between the two countries has centred on comments made in Edinburgh and London, very few have touched on the potential loss of the unique culture, language and heritage of the borderlands.

Although the respective acts of union in 1706 and 1707 are often considered the end of any meaningful border between Scotland and England, the border was largely an irrelevance to the people of the borders long before then.

To the far west of the dividing line, the inability of Edinburgh and Westminster to assert control over the area and its Border Reiver families led to the area being referred to simply as ‘the debatable lands’ - while in the far east the town of Berwick changed hands a dozen times, eventually leaving Berwickshire in Scotland and Berwick itself in England.

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In a region where being English or Scottish can be somewhat of a grey area, unionism is unsurprisingly strong.

Every UK parliamentary constituency either side of the border is currently held by the Conservatives, as are the three most southerly Scottish parliamentary constituencies.

Ahead of Thursday’s Holyrood elections, the council leaders of the four authorities that straddle the border - Dumfries and Galloway, Cumbria, the Scottish Borders and Northumberland - are calling on pro-independence parties to provide clarity on the border issue.

“For those of us who live as close to the border as I do, our pasts are intertwined,” said Stewart Young, the Labour leader of Cumbria County Council.

“Carlisle is the great border city and there’s so much history, and interconnection between families and people who live either side of the border.

“One side of my family is from Annandale, and the other from Cumberland, and that’s part and parcel of living on a border.

“We spent hundreds of years fighting each other, in hostility, but ever since the union the links have been incredibly strong - certainly the cultural links.

“The ties across the border are very, very strong - even the language we use is often borrowed language.

“When you grow up in Carlisle, using various terms, it isn’t until you go elsewhere and find out you’ve been using Scots words.

“I’d be devastated if Scotland left the union to be honest, and I think it would be the wrong thing for them as well, but I recognise there are lots who disagree with that view in Scotland.”

Shona Haslam, the Conservative leader of Scottish Borders Council, and a Scottish parliamentary candidate for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, echoed the sentiment: “The Scottish Borders have so much in common with north Northumberland and Cumbria - we have more in common with them in terms of heritage and culture than we do with some of our neighbours further north.

“To run a hard border through that, to split up families and split up communities, would lead to a real lessening of that relationship and that community which would be incredibly sad to see.

“We haven’t had a border there for hundreds and hundreds of years, and so communities have grown up not recognising that border, and to slam a border through it now would destroy some of that community and culture that exists.”

The four council leaders are also concerned about the impact on the £450m Borderland Inclusive Growth Deal - a regional growth deal struck between Westminster and Holyrood to bolster the region.

“One of the things we know from the Borderlands Growth Deal is that actually there’s a lot we have in common,” said Elaine Murray, the Labour leader of Dumfries and Galloway Council.

“We have a history, even though it was sometimes fighting on the opposite side, but it’s a shared history. We have a Reivers-culture, we have people with a strong interest in outdoor pursuits, and there are strong links across the border here.

“I don’t know what would happen to Borderlands Growth Deal if Scottish independence happened, as it’s partially funded by the Scottish government.”

Glen Sanderson, the leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “In a nutshell, I think creating a hard border between us would be absolutely life changing for businesses, tourism, trade and families.

“Having a border with guards in sentry boxes is bad enough but how would the rest of a hard border be policed? Barbed wire fences along the length of it?

“The border is just a line on a map. Businesses and families in Northumberland trade and travel freely now - the enormity of disruption and difficulties that would be caused are difficult to imagine.

“Livestock farmers regularly trade every day between England and Scotland and tariffs if applied would wreck much of their livelihoods - quite unnecessarily.

“Families and friends cross the border often several times a day.

“To place any of this at risk is indefensible.”

In response, a spokesperson for the SNP said: "No one in the SNP is proposing a hard border.

“Free movement of people will continue after independence thanks to the Common Travel Area encompassing the UK and Ireland, which long predates the EU - so the reality is that independence will mean far more freedom of movement than now, with the ability to move freely across both the rest of the UK and 27 other EU nations.

"It is the UK Tory government which has thrown up barriers with Boris Johnson's disastrous, jobs-destroying hard Brexit taking us out of a market seven times bigger than the UK.

“Both votes SNP on May 6th will put Scotland's future in our own hands, not Boris Johnson's."

Councillor Haslam added: “Emma Harper said there would be a hard border, so it’s untrue to suggest the SNP are not saying that, and Nicola Sturgeon a few days ago said she was recognising there would have to be a border.

“If Scotland becomes an independent country - you can’t be an independent country and not have a border, and that border has implications.

“It would be a hard border too - they would be two separate countries, the SNP say we would be using a different currency, we would have a different bank, different passports - and they can’t have it both ways.

“The SNP are great at sugar coating things, they’re great at avoiding the hard questions - but they need to start coming up with the hard answers.

“They can’t dodge it and go around it all the time. What currency would we use? What economic model would we use? And there’s been zero answers from them.”

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