Living in Northumberland not far from Scotland I am more and more concerned about the consequences of an independent Scotland and know too that fears and concerns are shared by many people on both sides of the border.
The big worries have already featured in the debates. Will there be a different currency North of the border? Will passport and border security controls be introduced? Alex Salmond replied “no” to both questions but how can we be sure? Indeed how can there possibly be a guarantee that no future government on either side of the border might not unilaterally bring in such measures if they deemed that economic or security circumstances warranted? One Scottish voter told me “I’m not giving up my British passport for anyone!” But in an independent Scotland will retention of British passports by Scottish nationals be possible?
A variety of other issues, some big and some less important are also being raised. Our East Coast train services from London to Edinburgh and beyond, efficiently run by the public sector, are expected to be put out for franchise – but how will that work when 2 separate governments are involved? Much in the referendum debate has been said about the future of the NHS but in the English border town of Berwick people are worried that they will no longer be able to access hospital services – including A and E – on the Scottish side which are much nearer geographically than those further south. Some 30,000 people cross the border each day in both directions for work. Will they be subject to different taxation rules in the future? Will the companies they work for be subject to different rules and different types of red tape?
Other questions raised which, of course, do not only affect those of us in the borders are equally wide ranging from concerns about the future of Premium Bonds currently managed from Glasgow and open to all UK citizens to purchase, to what happens to the jobs of Scottish-based civil servants working for UK-wide institutions and departments. And then there are other serious issues such as the future for Scottish-based servicemen in our armed forces. If they want to continue in the British Armed Services will they be forced to relocate south of the border?
While economic issues have dominated the campaign there are in my view as many reasons for the heart to reject independence and separation as the head. It has been estimated that at the time of the Union in 1707 only 2 per cent of Scots had relatives in England. Today that figure is a huge 50 per cent! In the Borders we know that those family links are particularly significant and are treasured.
I believe in devolution and in bringing government closer to people and hope that it can be further strengthened within a sound cooperative framework for the UK as a whole. But devolution is very different from separation, division and divorce which, if there is a Yes vote on 18th September, is the sad future before us.