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Tom Peterkin: Borderlands zone in referendum debate

A paper will look at the possibility of a cross-Border Borderlands enterprise for the area. Picture: Ian Rutherford

A paper will look at the possibility of a cross-Border Borderlands enterprise for the area. Picture: Ian Rutherford

  • by TOM PETERKIN
 

It is this month that the Conservative MP Rory Stewart wants 100,000 Britons to form a human chain along Hadrian’s Wall. It is an ambitious undertaking and achieving such numbers will be challenging.

Assuming Mr Stewart’s plan doesn’t amount to a damp squib, it will be a dramatic declaration of love to Scotland from those who don’t want us to leave the United Kingdom.

As an event, it has clearly been designed to be deeply symbolic and ties in with Mr Stewart’s recent BBC documentary Border Country: The Story of Britain’s Lost Middleland.

For those who didn’t see the programme earlier this year, Mr Stewart, a former Black Watch soldier who is half English and half Scottish, made much of his view that the English and Scottish nations were an artificial construct describing the Border as a “pernicious scar, first inflicted by the Romans 2,000 years ago”.

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Two millennia after the Roman occupation, the “pernicious scar” is still making its presence felt in the independence debate.

Of course, there have been skirmishes over the Border before and in the coming weeks it will find itself at the heart of the fight for Scotland once more – albeit one that has little to do with cattle rustling or raiding reivers.

Instead of No campaigners emphasising the barriers they believe a Yes vote will create, a new move to talk up the unifying features of “Middleland” is about to begin.

This will take the form of a consultative paper calling for the creation of a new cross-Border enterprise zone taking in Dumfries and Galloway, the Scottish Borders, Cumbria and Northumberland.

The paper is to be produced by Westminster’s Scottish affairs committee – a group dominated by the pro-Union parties – and will look at the possibility of a cross-Border Borderlands enterprise for the area similar to that already in existence for the Highlands and Islands.

Rural Galloway has more in common with rural Cumbria than it does with the Central Belt, the argument goes, and as its own entity the Borderlands would qualify for more European funding.

It is an approach that its proponents believe will play well in the south of Scotland, where voters are said to be less keen on independence than elsewhere because of their close links with the north of England. Indeed, the committee chair, Ian Davidson of Labour, even mischievously suggests that a Yes vote could lead to a redrawing of the Border to keep the Middlelands together.

We may not be quite ready to shift the Border from just north of Hadrian’s Wall to be nearer the Antonine Wall, but another front is about to be opened on the indyref battlefield.

 

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