Nine years ago, Scotland voted NO in a historic referendum on whether their nation should remain part of the UK or become independent. But despite a 55% vote for British unity, the Scottish National Party has become stronger and is a dominant and formidable force in Scottish politics. With this in mind, it looks as if the question of Scottish independence is far from settled.
The real question is however, what would Scottish independence mean for the North of England?
It may not make much difference to people in London or the South of England if Scotland becomes independent but for those in the very north of the north, life will become a lot more complicated. My hometown of Berwick-upon-Tweed is no exception as despite being in England, crossing the border is an everyday activity in many people’s lives.
Work is but one example. Many people living in North Northumberland work in the Scottish Borders and in the winter of 2020, I was one of those people - working in a supermarket in Kelso. Now heading to Kelso is no big issue but during the winter Covid lockdowns things became more complicated, as despite having similar laws, there were slight differences which, if accidently overlooked, could land you in trouble. If issues like this can arise crossing an internal boundary, imagine the hassle you would potentially face crossing an international border when going to work?
It isn’t just employment that is an issue either. Before moving to Berwick, I lived in a small village a stone’s throw away from Scotland. As a result, I received healthcare from NHS Scotland in a Scottish health centre and got my first two Covid vaccinations in Scotland. This would only prove difficult in the future as English vaccination services demanded I register the vaccines as having had them “abroad”.
If cross-border healthcare for people in North Northumberland is this complicated now, how will it be if Scotland is independent? Will treatments and vaccines done in Scotland for residents in England be recognised by English health officials in the patients’ records? Will people living in England even be allowed access to the Scottish healthcare system or will they, in the case of people living in English rural communities on the border, have to travel much further for treatment?
And what about education? Living so close to the border during my childhood, I went a Scottish High School. I was educated there, sat my exams there and got my first qualifications from there.
This all gave me even more of a huge stake in the independence referendum as my education and healthcare both faced an uncertain future if the SNP were to have achieved their lifelong dream in 2014. And whereas my education may now be over and my healthcare may have moved to an English health service, many in my town and the rural North Northumbrian communities beyond use the Scottish health service and send their children to Scottish schools. The future of their healthcare and their children’s education and subsequent futures could well be in jeopardy if Scotland leaves the United Kingdom.
Although in 2014 the YES Scotland campaign were keen to press home the point that these border issues would not be a problem and that England and Scotland could share an open border, things have since changed. Britain left the European Union in 2020 and if Scotland were to re-join the EU as an independent country, as is the wish of the ruling SNP, the border between them and the North of England would become an EU border and could face the same difficulties being faced by Dover with the Channel crossing to France. Last year, the then SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon even admitted customs and border checks would need to be introduced in the event of Scottish independence. The implications of that on trade could be catastrophic, as we’ve seen with Britain and the EU following Brexit.
The question as to whether or not Scotland should become an independent country is for the people of Scotland alone to decide but should they choose to leave the UK, the consequences for the North of England will be severe. Whatever happens north of the border, Northern England must be ready for anything.