In border town, locals eye Scottish independence warily

In border town, locals eye Scottish independence warily

BERWICK-UPON-TWEED, United Kingdom - In England's most northerly town, local people are looking over the border to Scotland and worrying about what would happen if it votes for independence next month.

Berwick-upon-Tweed changed hands between England and Scotland 13 times in medieval border wars before finally becoming English in 1482. Its 14th-century town walls still stand as a relic to its turbulent history. The town has remained part of England ever since although it is over 300 miles (482 kilometres) from London and 50 miles from the Scottish capital, Edinburgh. But some residents fear that if Scotland, whose border is a couple of miles away, goes independent, the pretty town on the edge of the North Sea could face an uncertain future.

"We've got to sit and wait until September and see how Scotland votes," said Isabel Hunter, the town's mayor, a Liberal Democrat whose party supports Scotland remaining part of Britain.

People in Scotland go to the polls on September 18 to determine whether it should become an independent nation. Those in Berwick , as part of England, are not allowed to vote.

Opinion polls currently put the pro-independence campaign led by First Minister Alex Salmond well behind. A YouGov poll for the Scottish Sun newspaper published Monday gave the 'No' to independence camp 55 per cent support and the 'Yes' campaign 35 per cent.

Many 'don't see a border'

Scotland's current position as part of the United Kingdom means that it is very easy for people on either side of the border to cross back and forth. The border north of Berwick is marked with a sign saying "Welcome to Scotland" but there is no formal crossing or checks. That means people from Scotland and England can pass across unhindered to go to work, visit family and friends and use public services like hospitals while using the same currency.

Kevin Strachan, 23, works in a sports shop in Berwick but lives just over the Scottish border in the village of Chirnside. "A lot of my friends work on different sides of the border," he said. "We rely a lot on England. There's no jobs where I live. I don't think independence would be a good idea."

Hunter, who runs a small haulage business as well as being mayor, said many locals "don't see an England-Scotland border because we just go back and forth so many times". She added: "We've joked for long enough to say 'you're going to have to have your passport in the van every day, son, and I hope you've got a big enough passport for the stamping of it.'"

"That started off as a joke but you're starting to think now, if it's a yes vote, is this joke going to turn serious?"

The history of conflict between Scotland and England before their union in 1707 may have helped create lingering stereotypes such as that of the tight-fisted Scotsman or the arrogant Englishman. But Berwick's history offers a microcosm of the close ties which also exist between many people in England and Scotland.

The town has a hybrid identity. The local accent is a fusion of Scottish and northeast English, while the local football team, Berwick Rangers, plays in the Scottish League despite the town being in England. Residents have learned to live with the ambiguity, says Phil Johnson, editor of two local newspapers - the Berwick Advertiser, which covers the English side of the border, and the Berwickshire News, which reports on the Scottish side.

"There's so many people in the town here who have family one side of the border or other or work on one side, live on the other side," Johnson said. "That goes back generations, so there's a real sense of 'I'm from Berwick first.'"

Another local, 27-year-old Laura Jerdan, who works in a shoe shop, believed there was little difference between towns on the two sides of the border. "We have changed hands over ten times - I've visited some of the towns over the border and I don't see us to be any different," she said.

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