English border towns worried about Scottish independence

Report for RFI English broadcast on 16th September 2014. As Scotland decides whether to secede from Great Britain, English towns along the border are looking at the referendum with concern. Many Scottish and English people commute across the border to work and study. But some towns, like Berwick-upon-Tweed, fear an independent Scotland will make cross-border trade more difficult.

Click here to listen to the report on the RFI English website.


“Next stop, Berwick-upon-Tweed. If you’re leaving, please make sure you have your personal belongings…”

I’m on a train to Berwick-upon-Tweed, the last English town before the Scottish border, just four kilometres away.

For centuries, the Scots and the English fought over this quiet seaside town. It changed hands 12 times before the English retook it in 1482.

Today, the English and Scots live happily side-by-side, as Berwick mayor Isabel Hunter explains.

Isabel Hunter, Mayor of Berwick: “People in Berwick actually work just over the border in Scotland, and Scottish people do work in Berwick, so we just cross the border many times a day without realising.”

But people are worried it’ll be harder to do business across the border if Scotland becomes independent.

Isabel Hunter: “One of the most [biggest] fears is the currency, because England’s saying that Scotland has to have its own currency, so people here could actually be working in Scotland and paid a different currency. We’ve the second lowest wage in the country, so it’s the case of we don’t have the high wages, but if you’re going to have to pay exchange rates on a weekly basis, it’s going to affect the economy here.”

Hunter herself runs a road haulage company with major contracts in Scotland. With Britain’s opposition leader, Ed Miliband, suggesting that border guards may be deployed if Scotland leaves the union, she’s concerned about the impact on her employees.

Isabel Hunter: “Do I end up having to say to drivers: ‘You haven’t got a passport, sorry you’re finished.’ Why should we be forcing people to have a passport to maybe travel two to three miles?”

Gavin Jones runs a hamper gift shop in the town centre.

Half his business comes from Scottish visitors, especially during summer when the town’s population swells from 13,000 to 100,000.

Gavin Jones, business owner: “If we look in the till, probably half the notes here are Scottish notes, half are English notes. If Scotland has its own currency and these banknotes are no longer worth the same, we’ve got additional complexity to add to our business. We have to either take two currencies or we have to say to the customers that they must only use English currency. If we insist they only use English currency we’ll lose some of our customers.”

Kalvin Ng: If you have a vote in the referendum, how would you vote?

Gavin Jones: “I would vote to stay the same, to keep it together.”

But not all English people are against Scottish independence.

Steve West has lived in Edinburgh for nearly 30 years and is a convener of the group English Scots for Yes.

Although he feels more English than Scottish, he believes independence is the best way forward.

Steve West: “Westminster’s a very long way away and some of the priorities we have here, like levels of poverty in some of our cities are really not on their radar, on their agenda, so it’s a thing about having a more democratic, accountable government for Scotland.”

But will he miss England?

Steve West: “No, not really. It’s not as if we’re going to chop off Scotland and tow it out into the Atlantic. My family live in county Durham and North Yorkshire. I’ll still nip down and visit them on the train just as often as I do now. I’ll still feel just as British as I do now”

The referendum debate has divided not just Scotland but also England…between those who want to keep Great Britain intact, and others who feel Scotland will be even greater on its own.

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