Joyce Quin on the threat of separation felt by many ahead of Scotland’s independence referendum
Campaigning for ‘Better Together’ in the Borders a voter said to me “I’m not giving up my British passport for anyone!” Like so many of us she was proud to be British as well as Scottish, English or Welsh. She did not want to choose between her two identities and we agreed that neither of us wanted to be forced to become either exclusively Scottish or exclusively English – particularly when we both felt we belonged to the Borderlands.
In Scottish Labour’s ‘Referendum Special’ Gordon Brown points out that at the time of the founding of the Union in 1707 it was thought that only 2% of Scots had relatives in England. Today it stands at a huge 50% – a figure which is easy to believe for those of us with forbears from different parts of the British Isles and who treasure our mixed and shared heritage. A powerful reason in itself to keep the UK intact.
Alex Salmond has repeatedly denied the possibility of border controls after independence. However, finding ways of avoiding this would surely be difficult if Scotland and the rest of the UK had different immigration policies. Or if the border between England and Scotland was the border between an EU and a non-EU country.
Concerns about the consequences of such an international border have repeatedly been raised in conversations on the doorstep over the past few months. Some 30,000 Borderers cross between England and Scotland each day for work, and people and businesses are alarmed at the prospect of having to comply with different rules relating to residency, corporate taxation and red tape. People in Berwick, whose nearest A&E hospital sits over the border, are dismayed at the prospect of a 50 mile trip to their nearest English hospital in an emergency, with the obvious dangers and risks to life it could entail. In his speech to our Party Conference last year Ed Miliband talked rightly of the importance of the NHS being available to all in the UK wherever we find ourselves.
Alex Salmond and ‘Yes’ campaigners deride ‘Better Together’ for raising fears amongst Scottish voters. But they should recognise that such fears, aroused by real and practical concerns over the consequences of breaking the links between us, are not limited to those with a vote in the referendum. They are shared by people on both sides of the border, and by people across the UK, who feel directly affected and threatened by the prospects of separation – economically, politically and emotionally.
Despite such worries, campaigning in the Borders has not been a depressing experience. Far from it. Every day has been a reminder of the kinship and links which bind us. It has also been noticeable for the involvement of able and inspiring young people, running and directing the campaign from the Galashiels Borders office with flair and total commitment. For their sakes, for all of us, we must win next Thursday.
Baroness Joyce Quin is a Labour Peer and former MP for Gateshead East & Washington West
Published 10th September 2014