A rock and a hard place

Auld Acquaintance Cairn

I’ve just been reading the Washington Post‘s daily snippet on #indyref:

Britons gather stones at Scotland-England border to support the union before vote

It began in July with a single stone placed along a bend in the River Sark, the muddy trickle in a sea of green fields where Scotland and England meet — and where they could diverge if Scots choose to break from Britain in Thursday’s independence vote.

As the polls have hardened into a dead heat, the river bend has become a pilgrimage site for those who want to save the United Kingdom. And that single stone has evolved into a 9-foot-tall, 350-ton monument to a country that may cease to exist as the world has known it for three centuries…

Building a pile of rocks may seem an unusual way to try to salvage the union at the heart of the United Kingdom. But the collection of tens of thousands of stones from all corners of Britain — many daubed in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack — has become a growing emblem of the country’s shared history. It also has struck a deep emotional chord that otherwise has been lacking from the unionist campaign.

The item in question is the Auld Acquaintance Cairn.

Very Ecclesiastes 3:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.

Watching the sensationalist TV coverage of how the Yessers seem intent on disrupting any kind of reasoned Better Together debate, the casting of stones doesn’t seem too impossible. Or as Stephen Bush (we’re once again with the Telegraph‘s MorningBriefing) shrewdly observes:

Now every campaign has its fringe elements – but it is curious that the fringe elements in the Yes campaign seem so well-informed as to the movements of No-supporting politicians. Small wonder, too, that the grassroots campaign talks of “cowards” and “traitors” when at the top of Yes Scotland and SNP they speak of “Team Scotland”, of an England with values diametrically opposed to that found north of the border. (Don’t forget, for all the talk of a different political culture, Scotland has voted for the government in three out of the last four elections and 12 out of 18 since the war.) 

Incidentally, another Telegraph piece today is more straw in the chill wind:

The Scottish First Minister attempted to force the principal of St Andrews University to criticise the Government and tone down warnings she made about the adverse impact of Scottish independence.

Alex Salmond telephoned Prof Louise Richardson demanding she clarify remarks she made about the consequences of leaving the UK in a conversation described as “loud and heated”.

Emails obtained by The Telegraph also show that Mr Salmond’s office attempted to have Prof Richardson release a statement praising the Scottish government and criticising Westminster over higher education policy.

The revelation that he attempted to quieten the leader of one of Scotland’s most revered institutions, where Mr Salmond studied economics and medieval history, is the most high-profile example yet of his questionable campaign tactics which critics say amount to bullying.

El Presidente SalmondoEl Presidente discovered that this was another lady not for turning.

All things considered — whichever way the vote goes — late Friday night in east Glasgow might well be best avoided. Scores have yet to be settled.

Back to WaPo

As always, it’s the miscues that give one away as alien. The give-away to Griff Witte’s piece is the end-note:

Karla Adam in London contributed to this report.

Both Witte and Ms Adam area London-based, and #indyref is a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing, except that Gretna is an even smaller speck on the border. Try a bit more:

The line of division, if it becomes a true border again, can be hard to find. With no natural geographic features to partition this island, the Romans built Hadrian’s Wall — but much of it is gone. The River Sark, which forms today’s western boundary between England and Scotland, is little more than a stream that can be forded with a couple of hops. Drivers crossing into Gretna on an old stone bridge may not even notice they have entered a new nation.

Once again the confusion between the border and Hadrian’s Wall: it’s a long, long way from Newcastle (where the Wall ended in the east) to three miles north of Berwick-upon-Tweed, where — just short of Lamberton Nursery — the A1 Great North Road leaves England. Where are, by the way, lay-bys already for the installation of customs posts.

And that’s another gripe with Witte:

Nationalists say that won’t change if the union is dissolved and Scotland achieves independence. Much like another island to this one’s west — Ireland — Britain, they say, can be divided without border controls.

But British officials say that they are not so sure, and that differing security and immigration policies may force them to set up checkpoints at the crossings.

The Claudy experience

102560Memories are longer along the Irish border. You still see, in the rural parts, road signs like the one on the right here. An “Unapproved Road” was one without a customs post. Officially, it was closed to all but “emergency services” — doctors, nurses, vets, parsons and priests.

On the “Approved” crossings one had to present documentation for a vehicle, and — certainly in the 1950s and 1960s, a form of identity which was stamped in and out. This could get quite complicated. Take an “Unapproved Road” in one direction, arrived at an “Approved” crossing without the inward stamp, and one was in severe trouble.

Then, again, this being Ireland, the “Approved” crossings only worked a twelve-hour day and closed closed at eight or nine o’clock at night. And then you could be stuck.

At the height of the Troubles, those “Unapproved” crossings were firmly blocked (through Border farmers soon found ways to move beasts across, and others learned to follow).

Let’s extrapolate

Imagine “Britain” (though by then the term is redundant) divided between independent Scotland and a Tory England.

This Tory England has had its Referendum, as promised by David Cameron, and has voted to reject any renegotiated EU membership terms. Not impossible, huh?

Yet this is a Scotland, with an ageing native population, which needs immigration and cheap labour to support the SNP pledge for free care of the elderly. However, this is also a Tory England with the tabloid press screaming poison about immigration.

Of course, in that quite-imaginable context, the wild border country becomes either an unacceptably-permeable non-barrier, or it’s San Diego:

San Diego


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Filed under History, Northern Ireland, Northern Irish politics, Scotland, SNP, Washington Post

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