Recently, I forded the Solway from Bowness to Annan, hoping to examine the border between England and Scotland. I stopped, two hundred yards beyond the shore, in salt water, up to my waist. The tide had gone out, and the distance to the Scotland was half a mile of sea. What
would I find on the other shore? One thousand eight hundred years ago, the beach off which I had stepped was Rome, the shore up which I was about to climb, was Barbarian. You would have stepped into the water from a place with Roman senators, legions, taxes, magistrates, villas, and temples, and have emerged into a place with no such things. One land, one culture, one nation, and one state stopped at one shore, and at the other, a completely different set of institutions, and powers began.
But I was walking into Scotland in 2013. I saw no-one. The sea chopped against a slag-heap of uneven boulders, glistening black, algae-covered, just below the scum of bird feathers that marked the high tide. On the joins between the coast and the fields, were thickets of briars and nettles, raspberry bushes and hints of more exotic pink-flowered aliens: the same plants which you can see in a thousand railway sidings, builders’ yards, landfill sites, and canals. After an hour, I met an eighty year-old Scottish farmer. He was polite but he did not have much to say about the border, or the difference between the two countries. And after five hours walk, I crossed the border at Gretna, re-entering England, confused.
This was still a frontier, a thousand years after the Romans left. Edward I marshalled his troops for the invasion of Scotland at Brough by Sands, and died there. But after the collapse of Rome, the differences between the two sides of the Solway had become less stark. For seven hundred years, Cumbria had stretched to Glasgow, and Northumbria to Edinburgh. Right up to the Highland line, both sides had come to speak the same language – English – and wear the same clothes. The rulers dominated a single culture of Knights, and monks. At the river Sark, the frontier was disputed, artificial and recent. But the border remained the place where geography met politics.
On one side, the Scottish state possessed absolute power, but at the millimetre line of the border, its sovereignty ended. On this side of the line, the English were citizens in their own nation – it was their home, from which no-one had the right to drive them, and their government had obligations towards them. Step one foot across the mid-point of the Solway, and they were aliens. They were no longer citizens, under their own parliament, judged by their own judges, under their own laws. They could no longer choose their representatives, and stand for office. In a single step, they were under the jurisdiction of a different law and a different government. At worst, enemies; at best, guests, and strangers.
But this was 2013. For the last four hundred years, a Briton had been a citizen on both sides of the border, with a sense of their rights, in their own country. Crossing other borders can feel dangerous, or liberating: this was neither. And yet, Scotland was still a different nation. Everyone I met on the far shore spoke with a Scottish accent, had been educated in Scottish exams. They supported a separate football league. If they were university students, they studied for free, on a course that lasted four not three years; if they were farmers they received grants for slurry tanks; if they were wind-farm developers, they found it easier to build turbines. When they married, almost all now wore kilts. The landholdings were bigger, and the tenant farms much larger, than in Cumbria. The law of trespass was different, and so were the licencing laws, and the verdicts available to a jury. All these things combined to shape a quite separate culture and identity, even though they too shopped at Tesco’s, spoke English, watched the BBC, and grumbled about Westminster.
The sea, in which I was standing, was a frontier between two nations, but not between two states. Not yet, anyway. But if Scotland votes for independence, we will relearn much older forms of difference. Perhaps you would not immediately need to remember your passport, or a new currency. But suddenly, an Englishman in Scotland, or a Scot in England, will be a guest, not someone at home. You will no longer be the responsibility of the other country’s embassy abroad. If you were a Scot arrested in London; or English and arrested in Edinburgh, you would be under the custody of a foreign state, a foreign law, and a foreign procedure, over which you had no say, or vote. Competition between Scots and English in sport would have a different context and tone. When we faced threats, or challenges, beyond our shores, we would no longer respond as a single force. We could no longer love the Highlands and London, as aspects of a single country. We could no longer criticise each other in the same way; or take pride each other, in the same way. Which is why, I hope the Solway will always remain, as it is now, the ambiguous, opaque, tantalising, meeting of nations; but never again a frontier to make us foreigners.
Rory is inviting residents in the North of his constituency to an open meeting in Roadhead village hall on Sunday 28th July from 16:30 – 17:30, to promote community broadband activism in the area, and to address local resident’s concerns about current broadband provision, and prospects for future improvement.
Rory has championed a campaign to deliver Cumbria the fastest rural broadband in Europe, and played a key role in securing the £40 million contract between BT and Cumbria County Council, which will see 93% of homes and businesses gain access to superfast broadband, with speeds of 24mbps or greater, by the end of 2015. Over two and half years, he has worked with several communities in his constituency who were unlikely to be included in the roll out, and is keen to now help other communities in a similar position – adopting the community-focused model which has proven to be so successful in Fell End.
Anyone with further queries is encouraged to contact Rory’s constituency office on 01768 758 772.
Rory has announced that he will be working closely with Julia Aglionby and the National Centre for the Uplands at Newton Rigg to commission a study that will assess the future of Cumbria’s small hill farms, looking in particular at the impact of historic government policy and subsidies on the reduction in number of smaller family farms in the county. The MP aims to obtain evidence of the declining numbers of small family farms, and intend the study to investigate the drivers that have contributed to a fall in their numbers – the majority of which are located in the uplands. Penrith and the Border is cited as the ‘number one’ uplands area in England, given that it contains the highest percentage of upland land of all English constituencies.
Rory said: “I am extremely concerned at what I see as a very worrying decline in the number of small family farms in our county, and I am working hard to gather the evidence that will illustrate that there are aspects of modern policy that have contributed to their disappearance. I would like policy-makers to be able to use our findings to inform future legislation and policy debate, and I am extremely pleased to have the support of experts such as Julia Aglionby and hill-farmers such as Will Cockbain.”
“I have been a strong advocate of the need for the Keogh review, and support the very detailed investigations that have taken place under the leadership of Sir Bruce Keogh. My absolute bottom line remains the provision of the best possible hospital care for my constituents and for all those who use the Cumberland Infirmary, and if the Keogh report brings about the necessary changes, then I am delighted that clear areas requiring improvement have been identified. The key thing now is to ensure that these issues are rectified without any delay, since the rebuilding of faith in the Infirmary depends on the Trust taking swift and appropriate steps to address issues such as the shortfall of staff during out-of-hours time; the need for a comprehensive upgrade so that all equipment and estates are in absolute prime order; and of course that the stability of the Trust
and Infirmary – for the benefit of its management, staff and all who use it – remains our absolute goal. I would like to reassure constituents that I personally support the implementation of all of Sir Bruce’s recommendations, and to continue to hold to account those on whom our health and wellbeing depend, to make the Infirmary a hospital that Cumbria can once again be proud of.“
Cumbrian MPs Tim Farron and Rory Stewart have welcomed the news that Defra will now give extra support to livestock farmers blighted by the recent bad weather.
Defra has announced farmers will receive 90% of the cost of removing sheep killed in snow, up from the expected 75%. This comes after a high profile campaign by Cumbrian MPs Tim Farron and Rory Stewart.
After the snowstorms of March this year, the government made £250,000 available to help English farmers in the worst-hit areas with the costs of collecting fallen stock, but MPs wanted more. Just over 1,000 farmers are eligible for the scheme. All will receive funds by the end of this month.
Tim Farron MP said:“The weather across the North and North West England has been completely devastating for many farmers. Hundreds of sheep were lost, buried under snow, and what should be an enjoyable lambing season was threatened with complete destruction. Working with Rory we were able to secure £250,000 for livestock farmers but we knew more was needed. I am pleased the government have listened to us and offered even more support.”
Rory said:”The harsh winter we experienced this year came on the back of eighteen uninterrupted months of miserable weather. Tim and I were absolutely determined to do all we could to try and alleviate the economic, the physical, and the emotional toll that this has taken on our farmers, and we are delighted that Defra listened to our calls and have made this compensation available, in addition to the initial funding commitment of £250,000.”
Rory, who is a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, used his position in the committee to lead a push for internet freedom within the international community.
Speaking at a public evidence session looking into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights work in 2012, Rory highlighted the importance of internet freedom across the globe and pushed for international investment, along with diplomatic efforts to try and prevent the blocking and jamming of news internet pages as well as social media sights.
Rory has long been committed to ensuring the delivery of superfast broadband to the most rural parts of his constituency believing everyone who wants access to a broadband service should get it as soon as possible. These principles were echoed as he spoke for the need for the international community to push for internet freedom internationally, and ways to prevent the blocking and jamming of specific websites in certain countries.
Rory said: “Access and freedom of information on the internet is a human right and should be available for people across the globe. I think it’s important that along with putting diplomatic pressure on those countries who seek to censor their citizen’s access to certain internet sites, we also need to join together with others and invest in finding technology to get around the blocking and jamming of websites. We should collaborate more energetically with the US and EU states to invest in technology that can get around state censorship on the web.”
Rory and Vice-President of the Penrith and District Gardeners’ and Allotment Holders’ Association, spent Saturday morning with local gardeners and members of the Association at the Salkeld Road allotment in Penrith, where he met with members, chatted about the workings of the Association, and admired the incredible displays of horticultural expertise, all at an allotment with arguably one of the best views in England.
Rory met with Chairman Nick Bellas, Honorary Secretary Jean Hind, and a number of other members. The group explained that the membership organisation – begun fifteen years ago when they took over the administration of the allotments from Eden District Council – boasts between two and three hundred members in and around Penrith, all of whom pay around £25 per year to rent a plot. The Association organises an Annual Show and other outings and events, such as a Buffet Supper and Dance.
Rory said: “I’m thrilled to meet with the committee and some members of this Association, which does such a fantastic job in promoting the importance of gardening and making horticulture for Penrith’s residents affordable and accessible. It’s marvellous to see so many proud gardeners in their plots on a Saturday, and it is one of the very best-kept allotments that I have ever seen. It also boasts some incredible views of the North Lakes and Caldbeck Fells. It is a real privilege to be Vice-President of the Association, and I look forward to continuing to support them in any way I can.”
Chairman Nick Bellas said: “We were very pleased that Rory took an interest in what we are doing, but just sorry that he is too busy to open the show. We thank all the allotment holders for keeping the sites clean and tidy, also all members who do a lot of work which is never noticed. Some people do take on a plot and do not realise how hard work it is if you do not keep on top of weeds. It would be good to see more taking part in our Annual Show, which is to be held on Saturday, 7 September in the Evergreen Hall.”
CUMBRIAN MPS PROMOTE AN “INTERNATIONAL PROFILE FOR CUMBRIA” AT INAUGURAL CUMBRIA TOURISM APG MEETING
The six Cumbrian MPs Rory, Sir Tony Cunningham MP, Tim Farron MP, Jamie Reed MP, John Stevenson MP and John Woodcock MP in association with Cumbria Tourism hosted today’s inaugural meeting of the Cumbria Tourism Associate Parliamentary Group in Westminster. The group was established earlier this year following discussions between the Cumbrian MPs and the representatives of Cumbria Tourism around how to improve the voice of Cumbrian Tourism in Westminster, and to promote the county further afield.
Today’s meeting, held in Parliament, focused on the immense potential for growth of the Cumbrian economy, much of which pivots on the continuing success of the Cumbrian tourism sector. The meeting brought together a wide variety of representatives from Cumbrian business, heritage, local government, and local charities, and involved a panel discussion with the six Cumbrian MPs.
Sir Tony Cunningham MP said: “It’s great to see Cumbrian MPs coming together in parliament with businesses and the tourism industry in Cumbria to discuss how to promote the county both across the UK and further afield internationally. Cumbria is a brilliant place and it’s important the promote this to ensure the tourism industry grows and thrives in the coming years.”
Tim Farron MP said “Tourismplays an absolutely vital role in the Cumbrian economy. As a group of MPs we understand its value and we are working together to get the government to support the sector more. I want the Government and the tourism industry to designate Cumbria, with the Lake District put front and centre as an international attack brand for a tourism campaign. We have fantastic attractions, unique hospitality and breathtaking scenery. I will keep working hard to make sure Cumbria’s tourism sector is heard in Westminster. I know that working together we can fight for the best deal possible for the county.”
Jamie Reed MP said: “We have to address the huge demographic and economic challenges facing Cumbria. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom. We need a collective effort to secure the economic growth that the county needs and we urgently need to rebalance our economy by protecting and growing our private sector. The county’s MPs are all committed to this goal and a stronger tourism industry is a key aspect of this.”
John Stevenson MP said: “It’s good to see Cumbrian MPs engaging with Cumbria businesses to discuss why business is important to us all. It is important for us all to ensure we have a vibrant and successful economy for the future.”
Rory said “Cumbria is the most beautiful place in England, and one of the most beautiful in the entire world. But if we are to grow a tourism economy, we need to begin by focusing hard. Money is limited. Time is limited. We can’t do everything. We must make sure we provide what visitors want, not what we think they ought to like. We need to be tough about distinguishing between different areas, and make difficult choices. We can’t market, and develop everything. And we cannot ignore the enormous advantage we already have – and must keep – with the Lake District.”
John Woodcock MP said: “The visitor economy is important to the whole of Cumbria – including Furness – and it was good to discuss how better transport links can help attract more people across the area in addition to the tourist hotspots. As we develop our economic strategy for the region, it is vital we recognise how diverse sectors such as tourism and manufacturing can actually boost each other rather than being in conflict.”
Rory, Vice-President of the Skeleton Show, has praised all involved in the organisation of this year’s show for an excellent event, following a disappointing cancellation of the event last year. The 2013 show was the “best-attended ever” – continuing its tradition as the largest village show in Cumbria, and a real showcase for all things related to the countryside.
Rory said: “Skelton Show and its fantastic organising committee have done an absolutely wonderful job this year, on the most glorious day of the year, to produce another successful event in the show’s long and distinguished history. After the disappointment of last year’s cancellation due to wet weather I am delighted that we have been blessed this year with beautiful blue skies and sunshine, ensuring an amazing turnout and the most impressive display of livestock, local produce and arts and crafts, horticulture, horsemanship and hounds, and of course so many amusements and trade stands that are able to engage informally with the public. Many thanks also to those who did such an incredible job in dismantling all stands by lunchtime on Sunday. It’s an enormous honour to be a Vice-President of this Skelton Show, and to be able to attend and show my support for this great Cumbrian tradition.”