DCSIMG

Jane Bradley: Stuck in the Middleland with you

TURNS out I am exactly the same as you. Well, not all of you – but the 70 per cent of you living in the Lowlands.

I am not a Scot – I was born in the north-east of England, where my family on my mother’s side has lived for as far back as the family tree can remember.

On my dad’s side, they eventually defected south when my grandfather was a child, but they are actually northerners – from Kirby Lonsdale in Cumbria. I am northern through and through.

But, for most people living north of Hadrian’s Wall, I am in Scotland an outsider: a foreigner living in what could, come 18 September, become an independent nation of which I am not a native.

However, according to Rory Stewart, the Scottish MP for the northern English constituency of Penrith, I am actually the same nationality of every so-called Scot who lives between the Border and the Firth of Forth. We are neither Scottish nor English, he says. We are all Middlelanders.

Stewart outlines his theory in a BBC programme looking at the effect of borders in the UK. Split off the south of England and the Highlands and islands and what’s left, the land between the Forth and the Humber, is a separate cultural entity: the Middleland.

It began, he says, when the Romans invaded. They started off in the south of England, where the natives couldn’t get enough of the luxuries of their civilisation. Who wouldn’t?

The answer was the Middlelanders. Despite desperate attempts to civilise us, we mud hut dwellers weren’t so easy to persuade. We might have been squatting on dirt floors, heating our homes with smoky fires, but they were our dirt floors and our smoky fires and we loved them. We were stubborn and hard nuts to crack and made life difficult for the Romans.

Stewart argues that the concept of Scotland, as its borders are today, was created solely by the “arbitrary” construction of Hadrian’s Wall: a line which drew an artificial border between the two modern nations rather than representing any real sense of cultural difference between the two.

The border, which followed an existing path, was put there to help control the revolting citizens – creating a military heartland operating under martial law. The divide was utilised by future monarchs, fuelling the notion of a divided England and Scotland.

I like the idea of the Middleland as a free, borderless space. As a northerner, I have never really related to the south of England – especially London. It is like a foreign country: they do things differently there.

Culture-wise, I have always felt perfectly at home in southern Scotland and the Central Belt. It never seemed to be much of a change from my home region. It is only when I travel north, hitting the rugged scenery of the Highlands and the remote society of the islands that it begins to feel like I have left home – albeit on a pleasant and somewhat exotic holiday.

The Middleland stops just north of the Firth of Forth, when the Romans found they could not advance any further – due, says Stewart, to both problems with the terrain and also with a shift in culture which, after the already trying experience of the Middlelanders, was a step too far.

The Highland Scots were a different breed and one which the Romans realised they couldn’t conquer.

While there are inevitably cultural differences between parts of northern England and lowland Scotland – it is possible to find small changes by just travelling a few miles – the general overall culture of the Middleland can be found throughout the north of England and Scotland.

Us northerners use dialect words which you Scots think are yours: “Bairn”, “bonny”, “gob”. The list could go on: we speak the same language.

Food historian Peter Brears last year published a book, Traditional Food in Northumbria, claiming that haggis was actually a recipe commonly found on the tables of working families in northern England long before being adopted by the Scots.

Forget Scottish independence. Embrace Middlelandism. Us northerners will soon have you Lowland Scots eating stotty cakes and chicken parmos like one big, happy, Middleland family.

 

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