Berwick vicar to represent Church of England on eve of Scottish referendum

Canon Alan Hughes of Berwick - who is related to a Scottish king - will represent the Church of England in Edinburgh

Susan and Alan Hughes
Susan and Alan Hughes

He's got links to a King of Scotland, his loved ones hail from North of the border, and the regiment which forms such a key part of his life is similarly from across the divide.

And yet he was born and lives in England, spent 18 years as vicar of Berwick-upon-Tweed, was awarded the MBE for services to the border town and has a number of chaplaincy roles in the North East.

What’s more, he will on Wednesday represent the Church of England at a service on the eve of the referendum on Scottish independence in Edinburgh, having recently mingled with royalty and church leaders North of the border.

Taking all that into account, it would be easy to forgive Canon Alan Hughes for feeling a little muddled as Scots prepare to vote on whether to leave the United Kingdom tomorrow.

Yet like many other people living along the border, currently at Wark, beside its historic castle and the width of the River Tweed from Coldstream - yet with a Scottish postcode - he is anything but confused over his identity, echoing neighbours’ references to themselves as Borderers, not Englishmen or Scots.

“We are proud people of both nations united along a common border, a shared border but only shared presently,” he said.

Canon Hughes is similarly of the view that Berwick is something of an island, often overlooked, between the two nations.

His thoughts are reflected in a model he made which shows a double antler and empty money box representing Berwick, between two single antlers for the English and Scottish parliaments.

Canon Alan Hughes' model
Canon Alan Hughes' model

“It is simply making the point that Berwick seems forgotten between the two,” he said.

Canon Hughes’ effort won first prize in the model section of a recent flower show.

The 68-year-old, like his neighbours, has many a question about how the vote will affect he and his family and life in general along the divide.

He said: “It affects us all so keenly because there is so much cross border, you can go to Coldstream every day for newspapers, petrol and people from the borders come over to the Maltings (theatre at Berwick.)

“Our mail is delivered from Coldstream, our power is from Scottish Power.”

The retired priest has also conducted services over the divide this year.

Canon Hughes believes there would have to be a physical border in the event of a yes vote, arguing that different levels of tax for fuel and alcohol on either side of the boundary, were that to be an outcome, could otherwise see people popping over the divide and returning “illegally” with lower taxed cigarettes and booze.

A bigger issue for him is the potential that wife Susan, a Scot now living in England, could become “an illegal alien” if Scots vote yes and do not join the European Union.

The Scottish border with Northumberland
The Scottish border with Northumberland

On a similar theme, Canon Hughes is mystified as to how his wife, and also son Hugo and daughter Tamsin - both of whom were born in Scotland but live in Berwick, do not get a say in the referendum.

At the same time, a student from Wooler who has signed up to a degree course in Dundee but has yet to start his course, will have a vote.

He believes ex-pats not being offered votes is because they “might be sympathetic to the union.”

For the sake of filling in the blanks, Canon Hughes had his DNA tested North of the border and was told he was one of only 10,000 people that is descended from Fergus the Great, one time King of Scotland.

The regiment in question is the Coldstream Guards, with whom he served and to whom he remains vice president of its Coldstream branch.

The chaplaincies are with the Northumbrian Army Cadet Force and the Northumbrian University Officer Training Corps.

The service he’s travelling to will see him represent the Church of England on the Royal Mile, followed by a reception at Parliament Hall.

It follows his recent visit to a church at Balmoral where he was in the company of The Queen, The Duke of Edinburgh and David Cameron for a service led by the head of the Church of Scotland.

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