Sunday, February 24, 2008

Berwick-upon-Tweed: Scotland's Gibraltar or England's Kosovo?

I have been meaning for a little while to post on the subject of South of Scotland SNP MSP Christine Grahame for Berwick-upon-Tweed to be returned to Scotland.

My father always refers to Berwick as Scotland's Gibraltar. I am not much of a nationalist, but each time I travel northward on the east coast mainline, I think that the River Tweed feels like it ought to be the border. And from the train at least Berwick looks more like a Scottish than an English town.

Yet Berwick residents, Scottish and English alike, have seemed happy enough these last few centuries with their position. This may change as I understand that the government has approved a plan for unitary government in Northumberland, which will take away some of Berwick's autonomy. Joining Scotland may therefore look like an attractive option.

Across Europe many if not most wars have been caused by territorial disputes around which nation or empire a particular territory should belong to based on the wishes of its inhabitants.

How do you decide which unit of territory or population should get self-determination? What if Scotland declared that Berwick is an integral part of the national territory regardless of the views of the town's citizens? Or if Berwickers wanted to rejoin Scotland, should this only be done if the rest of England acquiesced? Or should it be just down to the views of those who live in Berwick?

We search in vain for consistency in European precedent. Gibraltarians don't want to become part of Spain. But Spaniards don't accept its right to be separate from Spain. Kosovo has just seceded from Serbia against the will of the Serbs. Yet Northern Cyprus is still a pariah state within Europe, even though its residents clearly don't want to be part of the rest of Cyprus. I gather that both Spain and Cyprus voted against independence for Kosovo.

There but for the 1707 Union go we in Britain. So whether or not the Scots Nats get to reclaim Berwick, I suggest its very anomolous state - a town in a different country from its eponymous county - helps to undermine the case for an independent Scotland and is a good argument for maintaining the United Kingdom.


Jonny Wright said...

You're factually incorrect on Cyprus. In the 2004 referendum, the northern part of the island voted pretty decisively in favour of reunification, despite their politicians mostly favouring a "no" vote. It was the Greek southern part of the island that voted against, because they felt the reunification plan was too pro-Turkish for comfort. A wasted opportunity to end the idiotic status quo.

Wit and wisdom said...

Very interesting post and one which I take to suggest - as I would agree - that it matters not one jot which country Berwick is formally in and that the best thing would be to simply leave it as a pleasing Triv question.

Dan said...

Of course if Christine Graham gets her way and Berwick becomes 'Scottish' - I wonder what her (and the SNP's) view will be if the residents of Shetland decide they'd like to return to their Scandanavian roots?

Tom Barney said...

"a town in a different country from its eponymous county" Anomalous, but perhaps not unique - Compare Kansas City, Missouri.