Identity, not economics, should direct the debate over Scottish devolutionby Rory Stewart / February 22, 2012 / Leave a comment
Hadrian’s Wall marks the ancient border between England and Scotland
I live in the northern English borders and I am the only MP whose constituency has the word “border” in its name (Penrith and The Border). Our northern boundary is the Western March: a territory which for four centuries had its own government and law. Like many of my constituents—and much of the British population—I am both Scottish and English. Two years ago, when I walked from my parents’ home in Scotland to my house in Cumbria, I was walking between two nations but I never felt I was leaving my country.
Our modern England-Scotland border is a Renaissance compromise finally brokered by a French ambassador to resolve the wild “debatable lands” that lay between the nations in 1552. But the constituency contains earlier borders: ten miles south of the modern line is the monstrous military encampment of Hadrian’s Wall, ditched, spiked, revetted, and manned by 10,000 for 300 years. Twenty miles further south is the Anglo-Saxon border at Eamont Bridge, from a time when all of Cumberland was outside England (it is not even in the Domesday book) and where the Kings of Britain met in treaty in 927. I have stood on each frontier, and stayed in farms on both sides and never seen a country’s difference between one patch of wet grass, one limestone crag, one nimble black-faced sheep, and another.
It was different when I walked across the frontiers between Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal. In each case, within a few yards, I felt I was in a completely foreign land, in which every detail of manners, language, cuisine and context was altered. Related people lived on each side, but the change was final: for 400 miles across Turkey people drank coffee, 100 yards into Iran coffee had been replaced by black tea; green tea began only in Afghanistan.
In Britain, by contrast, the border forms more a unity than a division. For 700 years till the early middle ages we were the independent Kingdom of Cumbria and Strathclyde, stretching from Glasgow to Penrith—separate from Scotland and England, with a single Celtic language, laws, literature and dynasty. We were torn apart into two separate peoples by the propaganda and finance of Norman aristocrats on both sides of the border, who worked (often with the support of foreign powers) to deepen the divisions for four…