FARMERS reliant on a single-country lifestyle, writes Jane Bradley
Simon Orpwood and James Playfair-Hannay have been friends for more than 25 years, ever since they began farming on adjoining land in the picturesque Border hills.
Simon has a Scottish postcode but lives in England. James does the majority of his business with English traders and regularly shops in English supermarkets – but he lives in Scotland.
The pair have criss-crossed the Border for decades, sharing everything from farm staff to a regular drink.
But after September, the duo could find themselves living in entirely separate countries.
Simon, with his wife Caroline, moved to his farm, near Kirk Yetholm – and just a few miles from the Scots border town of Coldstream, but on the English side – almost 30 years ago.
Since the family settled in the area, where they brought up three, now adult, children, they have freely used services on both sides of the Border. His doctor is in Scotland, as is his optician, whom he followed from a practice in Berwick upon Tweed – in England – when he set up his own business.
His two younger children, boys now aged 28, were the last twins to be born in the now-closed maternity unit at Coldstream hospital on the Scottish side of the Border. The young children living next door are schooled across the Border in Scotland since the closest school, in England, closed down a few years ago.
He is unable to get a John Lewis delivery to his home as the company will not accept his postcode as either Scottish or English.
“I have a TD postcode, which is Scottish but I am on the English side of the Border,” he says. “John Lewis in Newcastle won’t deliver to a Scottish postcode, but John Lewis Edinburgh refuses to deliver to England.”
But Simon isn’t sure how his cross-Border lifestyle is funded.
“I don’t know if my healthcare is paid for by Northumberland Council or NHS Borders,” he says. “When I joined the practice, it was years before devolution, so it wasn’t an issue, I just registered with the local doctor. It has never even occurred to me that I am being treated in a different country. Of course, that could all change if Scotland becomes fully independent and they crack down.”
THE Scottish Government says the funding of school places is sorted out between the relevant local authorities across the Border, while healthcare enjoys “established arrangements between Scottish NHS Boards and English Trust Hospitals”.
It insists that existing arrangements will continue, should Scotland become independent, but Simon isn’t so sure.
“We just don’t know what will happen years down the line, even if not immediately,” he says.
“What I am worried about is, what if – even if not now – someone eventually decides to put up passport controls. It would go right across my land. I’d be interested to see how they’d police a Border with all these tiny lanes through it.”
James adds: “It will change when somebody realises it will cost them. We straddle the Border. Business, socially, we both cross the Border frequently.
In the towns and villages around Simon and James’s farms, the independence referendum is a regular topic of conversation but the Yes and Better Together campaigns do not seem as strong as in the cities of the Central Belt. There is a noticeable lack of car bumper stickers and advertising posters from either side in the area.
“I think interest will increase as we get closer to the time,” says Simon. “This is a rural community. People are busy in the summer months, they haven’t given as much thought to it. And, of course, those of us on the English side of the Border don’t get a vote.”
Simon is fairly certain that if he was granted a vote, he would vote No. But he is also frustrated that he cannot have his say.
“I understand that they have to draw the line somewhere,” he says. “Obviously, not everyone in England can have the vote. But this decision affects me as much as it affects James. We are both crossing the Border on a daily basis.”
James believes that, for the majority of Borderers, the divide between Scots and English is a daily issue.
“There is already an obvious Border in people’s minds,” he says. “There are a lot of people who only socialise on their own side of the Border. Not everyone, but definitely a large proportion of people. The accents change as you reach the Border – it is clear who lives on the Scottish side and who is English. I know a number of people – who are Scots – who have talked about moving across the Border if independence comes because they are worried about economic issues.”
He adds: “Having said that, we have used it to our advantage in the past. When Scottish pubs used to close at 10pm, as young farmers, we would head five miles down the road, across the Border, for an extra hour’s drinking in England.”
AS FARMERS, their main fear relates to the effect that currency uncertainty could have on their trade.
They both sell cattle and sheep to supermarkets on both sides of the Border, but James is worried that Scottish cattle may become too expensive if the Scottish pound is not in a currency union with the rest of the UK.
“They just haven’t given us the information yet as to how that would work,” says James, who declares himself a floating voter. “It is very concerning. It could mean a lot less money in our pockets. Otherwise, in some other ways, I can see the attractions of an independent Scotland.
“It is like buying a new car from a salesman. We don’t know how much it is going to cost or how it is going to perform, but they’re just saying: ‘Please place your order’.”
He adds: “We sell animals in Stirling, [at the] bull sales; finished animals to Scot Beef at Bridge of Allan and we sell cattle at Carlisle. We have a lot of private customers in England but the problem is that we have this parochial Scottishness that everything is centred around the Central Belt, but our population is minuscule. Scotland needs to export food, we have very little else. We produce meat, grains and so on, but our main market is south of the Border. Yorkshire, for example, has the same population as the whole of Scotland and our volume market is in England.”
Both are worried about a potential gap in relations with the European Union in an independent Scotland.
It is likely that negotiations to join could take some time, although nationalists have argued that Britain is planning its own referendum about leaving the EU in future years.
“If Scotland is not in the EU immediately, that will make a huge difference to us as we have markets in France,” says Simon.
James adds: “If Scotland becomes independent, a lot of these negotiations won’t start until after independence is decided. There’ll be a lot of horse trading to do in terms of the EU. We’d be bypassing Westminster and going straight to Brussels. If we go independent, our product will be devalued and that will mean less money in our pockets.”
The way the European Union’s farming subsidies are decided is already interpreted differently on either side of the Border.
Simon reports to the English authorities, while James is part of the Scottish farmers’ network.
“We have to do things completely differently,” says James. “They interpret the regulations differently already.”
James achieves 10p per kilo more than Simon by being allowed to call his product “Scotch beef”, while the identical cows, grazing a matter of metres away on Simon’s land, are known only as “Angus beef”.
“It’s because of our beautiful Scottish scenery and the quality of our land,” jokes James, pointing out of the window from Simon’s kitchen table on the English side of the Border. “Our beef is obviously better.”