'We're not English or Scottish': how Scottish independence could transform life in the Borders

People living along the England/Scotland border say they are in the dark over how this week's referendum will effect their lives

Joe and Muriel Brattisani of Branxton
Joe and Muriel Brattisani of Branxton

The first hint you get that something’s going on when driving up to the England Scotland border is a bedraggled Saltire, left for the benefit of motorists on a bridge over the A1 just outside of Alnwick.

That ‘something’ is, of course, the not insignificant matter of Scots going to the polls to decide whether their nation should become independent.

Thursday’s poll is potentially life changing for people who live close to that border, on both sides.

At present the divide for them is merely a jagged line on a map, which they cross with great regularity almost as if it were not there.

Health, education, work, shopping, veterinary care - these are just some of the things for which people hop over the boundary in an area where many people regard themselves as “Borderers” first - English or Scots second.

And with talk of border controls, new currency and tax systems, and even a different time zone should Scotland opt to go it alone, it’s easy to see why a yes vote could be huge for those Borderers.

Driving into Berwick-upon-Tweed, England’s most Northerly town which has changed hands between us and the Scottish countless times over the centuries, the first thing that catches your eyes - again - is flags.

The colours of St George and St Andrew fly alongside each other outside Marshall Outdoor Centre, some two and a half miles from the border.

Owner Howard Marshall, who set up the business ten years ago, tells how tourists he speaks to “do not know which country they are in.”

He pulls no punches when asked his thoughts on the referendum.

“I think it is the daftest thing anybody ever dreamt up,” he says. “It causes so many problems for business and people right on the border. Is tax going to change, are they going to change British Summer Time?”

Howard employs people from both sides of the border who could potentially be living in different time zones.

He adds: “Am I going to have to pay them different taxes? Nobody knows. Whatever happens it is going to be more difficult.

“It is not going to effect people in Newcastle, it is the people right along the border. We have got a perfectly good arrangement, why change it?”

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Howard lived just over the border, at Paxton - which falls in the TD15 Berwick postcode area - until three years ago when he moved to the town of his work.

“We have allegiance to both,” he says. “Berwick is a rather unusual town. It is neither one thing nor another.

“A lot of people in Berwick really do not feel English or Scottish. We are 60 miles from Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.

“We are really right in the middle as all Borders town are.”

Fifteen miles south west from Berwick is Flodden Field, where England and Scotland fought in 1513.

Clive Hallam-Baker, chairman of the Remembering Flodden project, responsible for its battlefield trail, has lived close by in Branxton, four miles from the border, for three decades.

Flying in his garden is the flag of St George.

Clive Hallam-Baker
Clive Hallam-Baker

“My head says no [to independence],” he says. “All our services here come from across the border. Post, telephone, electric, doctor, dentist, hospital.

“The nearest English hospital is Wansbeck which is 50 miles away.

“The only thing we do not have in Scotland is a solicitor, it is a different legal system.”

Clive even goes to Coldstream for veterinary services and also keeps his money over the border. He says a lot would change for him if Scotland was to vote yes on Thursday.

“The first thing we will do is move our bank accounts into England and swap the bank notes into English. I still have got some Euros, they might be useful in Scotland!”

Clive believes England and Scotland are “stronger united in every way than split.”

He echoed Howard’s view on how people living along the border see themselves.

“Going back 30 years, we asked people are you English or Scottish? They said no we are borderers and affinity to London or Edinburgh is less important than their affinity to the borders.”

Parked across the road from Clive’s house is a car with a Saltire on the number plate - but it sits in the shadow of a Union flag flying in a garden.

Muriel Brattisani is a local lass, while her husband Joe (pictured together top) hails from North of the border.

As well as their Branxton abode, the couple own a house in Edinburgh. She owns a hairdressing business in Edinburgh and he once had a restaurant there, while the Brattisanis also own a holiday lets in the Scottish capital.

So the pair are crossing the border all the time. Muriel said: “We are definitely no and that is why we have got the flag up. If Scotland wins, the English flag will be going up!

“I am worried about my businesses.”

Joe, 77, said: “I think it is a silly mistake. I do not really know about the ins and outs of it all. It will certainly create more jobs for a lot of people in parliament.”

From Branxton, we pass through Cornhill-on-Tweed, over the border that is the River Tweed bridge, and into Coldstream and Scotland.

The sight of blue and white flags greet you the moment you reach the bridge, even before the Welcome to Scotland signs.

No border patrol here to negotiate and no passport needed, but could that all be different beyond Thursday?

Yorkshireman James Scholfield, who has lived in Coldstream since 1963 - a fact his thick accent belies - is hoping not.

The retired 83-year-old, once a “British” solider and drinking in a pub where the Saltire flies but where everyone The Journal speaks to is English, said: “I am sick of it being on the TV. I do not know anyone really here who wants it.

“My family are just two miles over the border. I have seriously considered if it goes to a ‘yes’ vote going and living there.”

With that, we retreated over the border and back into England, heading East to Norham, where again a bridge over the Tweed acts as the boundary with Scotland. RG Foreman and Son butchers has one shop there, and one over the boundary at Eyemouth.

Manning the shop is business co-owner John Foreman, who lives in Norham yet spends most of his time working in the Eyemouth branch.

John Foreman of Norham
John Foreman of Norham

“I am a no man,” he too says. “Half the staff is in Eyemouth, half the staff is in Norham. What do we pay them?

“There is people cross the border ten 20 times a day here. Everyone is asking all the same questions.”

John - like many of his fellow Borderers - raises the point that those just south of the divide will have no say in a decision which will have such massive consequences on their lives.

“I live in Norham, spend my life in Eyemouth but I do not get a vote,” he adds.

The journey ends back on the River Tweed in Berwick, with town mayor and county councillor Isabel Hunter.

It is a town where Bank of Scotland customers are supposedly phoning from North of the border asking whether they should open accounts in England. Would the bank retain its Scottish name in the event of a yes vote?

Considering the issues, Isabel says: “The main worry is the currency because people in Berwick, some work over the border and some over the border works in Berwick.

“How are they going to get paid? If they work for a Scottish firm, they are going to get Scottish money. There is going to be exchange rates.

“The shops and the businesses are going to have to work with two currencies.

“We are the second lowest wage, if we have to work with exchange rates it is effecting our economy.

“Until we get the vote, we just do not know what is going to happen.”

Isabel Hunter
Isabel Hunter

Isabel is worried about the affect the distribution and logistics business she also runs.

“If they end up putting up borders and crossing points, does everybody in Berwick have a passport?” she asks. “It is something I never ask my drivers. I have a van that runs down to Galashiels (in Scotland) every night. What do I do if they say no?

“Either get one in so many weeks or you are sacked or I turn round and say you are sacked.”

Isabel was awash questions ahead of the vote.

“They are going to give benefits to Scotland if it is a no vote?” she asked. “Is that going to make Berwick feel inferior?

“Are they going to get advantages we do not get and we are just over the border?

“Is this going to effect our relationship? We have always worked well across the border, we never see a border.”

Indeed, everyone The Journal spoke to was full of questions.

And perhaps we were unlucky, but not one person we met told us they supported a yes vote.

So from Borderers it’s a case of ‘over to you, Scotland’. Their future is in your hands.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer