Opinion: I hate the thought of a break-up of the UK

The arguments over the Scottish independence referendum are coming to a head and I will be glad when it is over.

The issue has featured in a lot of discussions with family and friends on both sides of the border all year. I haven’t met any Scot who has said they are supporting the Yes side, but then most of them are Borders farming types and, while the Borderers are very patriotic, they have never been renowned for nationalism. Indeed, one friend has advocated that in the event of a Yes vote, the Borders should form its own independent enclave. His blood was up and I’m not sure that he was entirely joking.

We live near the border and have close business and family ties with Scotland. I hate the thought of a break-up of the UK and hope that it will not happen.

However, if confirmation was needed that the only sensible decision is to vote No, it is the news that the Yes campaign has been endorsed by George Monbiot, Guardian columnist and advocate of the rewilding of the countryside and the reintroduction of wolves. I can only assume he thinks Scottish independence would be a similar sort of experiment, except this time involving humans.

Our local TV station recently brought us a debate from Berwick-upon-Tweed on how the North East would be affected by Scottish independence. The SNP spokeswoman said the north of England could avoid further cuts that would be coming under either Labour or the Conservatives if we joined Scotland in breaking away from London. Yup, it’s apparently that simple. This does ignore the reason for the cuts – the need to tackle the deficit and the debt, all principally run up under the stewardship of Scottish politicians at Westminster, partly to bail out a Scottish bank. Seemingly, this avoidance of cuts would be achieved by what is known in the restaurant trade as “doing a runner”. Put me down as not entirely convinced. Actually, it was worse than that. It made the Yes side’s economic plans sound as if they were based on wishful thinking.

As it happens, the North East has already had a vote on whether to have devolved powers to a regional assembly. This was in 2004 and the proposal was defeated by 78% to 22%. I think this was partly because it was perceived as adding another expensive layer of bureaucracy, but also because there was some doubt about the quality of regional decision-makers and their ability to handle more power.

A recent battle with our county council over school transport has not enhanced my confidence in local policy-makers. In brief, the council is hard up, so decided to stop providing school transport for sixth formers, except in exceptional circumstances. What may have seemed a good idea for urban areas, where people live close to schools and there is ample public transport, is disproportionately harsh on people who live and work in isolated rural areas doing things such as farming. When it came to the crunch, the interests of rural people were quietly overlooked or ignored.

Scottish agriculture seems to have benefited from devolution. But I can’t help wondering what would happen in the event of Scotland voting Yes and leaving the EU for an indeterminate period. Farming would be pitching for assistance against the competing demands of healthcare, free university education, welfare and everything else. As an outsider, it will be interesting.

So may the best side win. If it doesn’t, we may soon start hearing about that independent enclave.

Elizabeth Elder and her husband Jake run sheep and cattle on 235ha 
of hill ground on the Otterburn Firing Range
in Northumberland.

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