Borders faces its own North-South divide

Hawick, in the Scottish borders. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Hawick, in the Scottish borders. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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The Borders should have greater independence from Edinburgh and foster closer links with the north of England, according to the newest political force in the area.

The Borders Party has argued the Liberal Democrat and Conservative ruling coalition in the region should put the national agenda before local issues and stop treating historically independent Borders communities as satellites of the nearby capital.

The party, which won two seats on Scottish Borders Council at the last local elections, hopes to make gains next month. But other members of the administration claim the party’s opposition to the Borders rail link, for which many have campaigned for years, shows that they are out of step with local opinion.

Sandy Aitchison, one of the Borders Party’s two councillors, said it sees disenchantment with the Borders’ attachment to Edinburgh as a key factor in this election. It says the area has been forced to accept strategic planning decisions for the wider south-east of Scotland, which are driven by the capital’s needs, such as unwanted satellite housing developments. “We want to be independent in terms of the city region – we don’t want to be hanging off Edinburgh’s coat tails,” he said.

“That was probably something that was devised when Edinburgh was a rich and powerful city – well since the demise of the influence of the banks, that’s not where it once was.”

The party eschews the influence of national politics, insisting that local government should be exempt from the influence of Edinburgh or London.

“The national agenda takes supremacy over the local agenda and we’re not interested in that,” Mr Aitchison added. “I can say quite definitely that, over the past five years, people have voted with the party rather than what they believe and I don’t like that.

“We would like to see more connection with Northumberland because we’re very similar in our geography and our history and that thing called the Border is almost a barrier to cross-border relationships,” he said.

But Tory group leader Carolyn Riddell-Carre insisted the Borders, along with Edinburgh, the Lothians and even Fife are all part of Sout-east Scotland.

She said: “There’s a strategic development plan saying the main roads go here, the railways there because you need to think strategically. There’s no question of our planning being determined at Edinburgh – that’s a complete misrepresentation.”

The Borders Party “doesn’t have a policy” according to the Tory leader, who added: “They’ve always been anti-everything and never pro-anything.”

The region has been blighted by unemployment in recent years, with the traditional textiles industry suffering during the downturn, while the disproportionate level of wind farms developments has prompted local concern.

Mr Aitchison insists tourism should be at the heart of rejuvenating the area. “We need to have investment in industry and providing jobs and future planning is good because we are a tourist area. We feel that there’s more to be done there in terms of tourism.”