Friday 21 February 2014

I Hate to Keep Going On About This, But When Can We Expect the Barbed Wire?

This is the Old Bridge in Berwick-upon-Tweed at high tide during one of the wet, windy, miserable days we've had a lot of recently. Though not nearly as many of them as the poor people in the south of England have been having. I had a vague idea that this would be a suitable picture to illustrate a post on the theme of 'choppy political waters ahead'. Go on, groan as much as you want.

Now that the referendum on Scottish independence is only - quick count on fingers - about seven months away, Westminster politicians and the London based media have started to take it seriously. Last week there seemed to be a major attack on independence by a politician and an earnest 'whither the UK' piece on every news programme. I got rather irritated at the way the rest of the world seems to have only just thought of the issues that have been bothering those of us who live on the border for years. Well - they've been bothering me for years at any rate, and if you've been reading this blog you will be well up to speed on the issues.

I've already done at least two posts showing the bridge across the border at Coldstream as an accompaniment to questions about whether this is really a defensible frontier that could cope with being the border of the European Union. The bridge at Berwick is not the border any more but I may as well continue the theme. Everyone in Westminster is threatening the Scottish Nationalists with the alleged impossibility of staying in the EU if they leave the UK. So is some EU commissioner whose name I forget. From where I'm sitting, this looks like pure gamesmanship. There is no way that any EU commissioner who had visited Berwick or Coldstream or Norham or Paxton would be prepared to allow these towns to become the edge of the European Union. It would mean turning sleepy, remote villages into armed camps and erecting miles of barbed wire across rivers. I am quite certain that a newly independent Scotland would be fast-tracked through the process for re-admission in its own right, however many backstairs deals would have to be done to get all the member states to agree.

I am now more interested in the scenario raised by an expert from LSE, whose name I also forget I'm afraid, on Radio 4. He pointed out that all new member states of the EU are obliged to join the Schengen agreement, which allows free travel on a single visa through all states that are signatories to it. At present the UK is not a signatory. So that raises the prospect of England-'n'-Wales, or Rest of UK as the Scots call it, outside Schengen and a newly independent Scotland within it. Leaving Berwick and all the rest of the border towns as the new frontier of the free single visa travel area, which is only marginally better than being the frontier of the EU altogether. It would still turn us into a heavily policed land border between significantly different political entities, whereas we are now a border marked only by a couple of cheery flags and welcome signs.

I know that Holyrood can't really be expected to care about the English side of the border, but I would have thought that they would care about the impact on the Scottish border towns. If only because their inhabitants have votes in the September referendum.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Cameron Calls For Unionist Missionaries

This is a picture of the impressively large Union flag that hung outside the Northumberland Hall (an 18th century assembly rooms) in Alnwick during the period of the 'Jubilympics' in 2012. A few days ago David Cameron, Prime Minister of a so far still United Kingdom, decided that the best way to persuade Scots to vote against independence was to stand in the Olympic stadium and remind us all of the great achievements of Team GB in the summer of 2012. That's right, he thought that the hearts of Scots would be warmed by being reminded of an event in London - in London - that cost several billion pounds more than it would take to enable all five million of them to live in luxury.

Now, we had already worked out that David Cameron is not the sharpest tool on the parliamentary gadget belt, but one assumes that he has advisers to help him with this sort of thing. If so, no. 10 should probably review its recruitment procedures. (Unless, as my friend Kate said, trying to make David Cameron look clever is just too big a job for anyone.) This was a catastrophically misconceived speech, and the main message Scots will have taken from it is not any of the actual words coming out of his mouth but the loud and clear call: Vote for independence and you will never have to be governed by an English nincompoop like me ever again!

The most bizarre aspect of the speech was the PM's call on everyone in England and Wales to use all their powers of persuasion on any Scots they may happen to come across to win them for the No side in the September referendum. This responsibility weighs particularly heavily on Berwickers. Are we expected to travel the few miles to the other side of the border on a regular basis to act as missionaries for the Better Together cause? Should we perhaps set up our soap boxes in the high streets of Dunbar and Melrose and ask the crowd, in the manner of an evangelical preacher, if they have heard the Good News of Unionism? I am sure that Conservative Central Office would be happy to supply some suitable pamphlets for distribution on such occasions, setting out in bullet point form the saving power of the United Kingdom, the most extraordinary country in history. (Yes, Mr Cameron really called it that. He must have been studying Michael Gove's preferred school history curriculum.)

I have always said that, although the polls have continued to show a clear majority for a No vote in the independence referendum, we should never underestimate the ability of the Westminster government to shoot itself in the foot. I think that a Yes majority has just become significantly more likely.

Friday 7 February 2014

Another Seal in Residence!

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I am constantly in quest of the perfect seal photo. Two days ago I was walking across the bridge on my way back from Asda (other supermarkets are available) when I spotted a juvenile seal, still with a lot of its white baby coat visible, sitting on a sandbank just below the bridge, looking up at me with an adorable expression. At last - the perfect seal photo that will bring me fame and fortune! With hands trembling with anticipation I took my camera out of my bag. The battery was dead. They could probably hear my cries of anguish on the other side of the border.

Next day, armed with a fully charged camera battery, I walked out across the bridge again, thinking that there would inevitably be not a whisker of a marine mammal to be seen. Wrong! The seal was there again. Just not in such an ideal position and with a lot of sand messing up its pretty coat. Never mind, these are still my best attempts at seal photos yet. I particularly like the nice diagonals in the one on the right and the way the track of the seal hauling itself across the sand shows clearly.

Two years ago another baby seal was a regular fixture in this spot. We are all wondering if it grew up to become the mother of this new arrival and has now brought its baby back to its own childhood haunts. Some people reckon to have seen an adult seal near this juvenile. So we may have the start of a multi-generational colony beside the bridge, ideally located for gawping at by humans. Welcome, seal neighbours, we love you.