Monthly Archives: February 2014

Border

Preserving the Union

 

A trainee teacher: “Scotland separating from the United Kingdom? So? Does it matter?”

A retired General. “I’m not saying I believe this, but there are some people who think it might be quite good for England. That Scotland is taking advantage of us.”

An artist. “I’m not that political. Shouldn’t you be asking a politician?”

A newspaper editor: “We haven’t decided our editorial position. We won’t decide whether the newspaper will be backing the United Kingdom until much closer to the vote.’

The head of a large membership organisation: “I’m afraid we can’t be seen to be “political.” It’s complicated.”

But on 19 September we could wake up and find that Scotland has separated. That the United Kingdom as we have known it for four hundred years, has vanished. That a third of the land mass of Britain has broken apart. That anyone going to Scotland – on holiday or to see a relative – will be entering a separate country. Officials will be racing north and south to negotiate the terms of the separation: working out what to do with the Nuclear Submarines in Scotland, with the national electric grid, with currency and passports. Anyone with mixed English or Scottish blood will have to choose a single new identity, and reject a part of their previous identity. Scots in England will have to decide either to return “home”, to try to engage in the very difficult and uncertain task of launching a new much smaller, country; or to make a new life in England – as an immigrant in a foreign country.

Why has there not yet been a mass demonstration of support for the Union? Our population has never been so educated, long-lived, confident, well-travelled, or well-informed. We are concerned with poverty in Africa, nuclear power, the environment, the welfare state, and super-fast broadband. A change to the Lobbying bill, or a threat to the Public Forest estate can fill an MP’s inbox with thousands of emails. A proposal to build a wind-turbine can bring a hundred people in an instant onto a windy moor in the rain. A million people demonstrated against the Iraq war; more demonstrated against the hunting ban. Voters are rarely shy to say what their values are, or what they want for the United Kingdom. So why is there so little energy in saving the United Kingdom itself?

If a state tried to secede from the United States, the reaction would be beyond imagining. Even in gentle understated Canada, hundreds of thousands of Canadians from outside Quebec, rallied before the referendum to plead with Quebec to stay. You might expect every major British public figure – editor, writer, film-maker, actor, scientist, sports person, and historian– to make their own passionate and sincere arguments for why they care about Britain. But they aren’t.

It is tempting to blame apathy; but I suspect the problem is our identity. In most of Europe, nationalists worked to simplify their identities: invented new governments and reintroduced old languages, moved borders and then populations to eliminate diversity. Mixed territories – the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or much more recently Yugoslavia – were broken into smaller ‘nation-states.’ The idea was to ensure that someone, who might once have been simultaneously German, Czech, Czecho-Slovak, and Austro-Hungarian, became “simply” Czech.

But here it was different. The United Kingdom is the result of centuries of shared institutions, language and culture. It is the deep grammar behind our lives, our dreams and our actions. It is the context of our democracy, and the framework of all our government. Soldiers sign up to serve – and if necessary die for – the United Kingdom. When we vote in a general election we are choosing people to represent the United Kingdom; that is what the Prime Minister and Queen and the BBC are representing. The United Kingdom is the definition of what our nation is about, and who we are. The United Kingdom is precisely what we have – for more than three hundred years – been working to improve and preserve. After so many centuries it is very difficult to imagine what our identity would be without it. But none of this makes the United Kingdom any easier to understand.

The United Kingdom is a system in which a single state and monarch contains four different nations. We feel proudly English, or Scottish and also British, in different bewildering combinations. We have the same national broadcaster but separate legal systems. We compete against each other in Rugby but alongside each other in the Olympics. Cumbrians sometimes talk about Britain, sometimes about the United Kingdom, sometimes about England. We have forged an identity, which is contradictory, complicated – including both the Shetlands and London, where sixty per cent of people were not born in the United Kingdom – and sometimes almost invisible.

But that complexity is not something to try to deny, or “simplify”. It is something we should embrace. Not through pompous pieties. Or faking a rainbow community. We need different voices – poets, musicians, sports-people and community groups, from both sides of the border: people who – unlike politicians – are capable of being passionate about our predicament, and funny too. We should be able to be outrageous, even rude to each other, without denying our future together. We should revel in the complications, the oddities of our borders, and the contradictory names we give our islands. We can hate each other on the sports pitch but still want to keep each other. We – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – experience this tension, muddle, discord, and love, precisely because we are a family. We should not just abandon that 400 year old relationship, just because it’s not “simple”. We have never been simple people. And that is the strength of the United Kingdom, in a world that isn’t simple either.

Skelton Show

Scotland and the UK: Standing Together

Something amazing just happened. Yesterday alone another one thousand people signed up to join a human chain to unite Britain. On the evening of 19th July we will link arms in a human chain stretching from coast to coast: thousands of English, Irish, Welsh, and Scots, together. The chain will begin at Gretna and finish at Newcastle – running right along Hadrian’s Wall. At nine o’clock we will light beacons, and break open glow-torches. From the mountain ridges you will see a chain of lights linking the Irish Sea to the North Sea. It will be a moment – for all ages, every nation, every political persuasion – of respect, affection and solidarity for Scotland in the United Kingdom.

We are now very close to the referendum which will determine whether the United Kingdom will break up. The polls suggest that the vote is close. The Scottish Nationalist Party has gathered momentum and support. There is now a very serious chance that we will wake up on Friday 19th September with Scotland no longer part of the United Kingdom. Millions of Scots and English, South and North, will be divided; the United Kingdom as we have known it will be ended forever.

This is not only about economics. This is about identity. Four hundred years ago, two rival nations which had been killing each other for centuries combined. England and Scotland – which on their own might have been pedantic, pompous, or parochial – inspired each other and grew outwards into a miracle. And the Lake District and the Scottish borders – the land that linked these Kingdoms- became the central landscape of the European imagination. Many people still feel the strength of what we did, and can still do now, together. Others, however, are beginning to lose their sense of solidarity, or their confidence in our common project. And because Scots – like most people in Britain – feel a deep anger and disappointment about Westminster politics in general (polls show 85 per cent of the British public feel ‘politics is broken’), this is no longer a despair which can be best tackled by politicians. It can only be tackled by us all as citizens. It is the British people, all of us together, who can show that we still believe, we still care, we still hope.

When the human chain was first suggested at the end of last week, the response was very telling. The establishment was uncertain how to react. No newspaper or political party, business or mass member organisation or celebrity came out in support of the campaign. Prominent ‘leaders’ muttered that they didn’t care, didn’t think it mattered, and that they wouldn’t take the risk of coming out in favour of the United Kingdom. They thought ‘real people’ wouldn’t care either. But the popular response has been breathtaking. A hundred signed up in the first hour, and we are now into thousands. This hasn’t come from speeches in Parliament, or op-eds in newspapers. There has been no budget or ‘marketing campaign’. Instead, everything has been spreading word of mouth, with people forwarding on to friends through email, Facebook and Twitter. Offers to help organise and support are pouring in – people happy to co-ordinate lines along the wall, suggesting shared transport, setting up new websites. Groups from Wales and Cornwall have been in touch, asking if they can organise branch lines, stretching hundreds of miles South-East. We began by worrying that we might not get enough people – we are now worrying about how to organise the coaches and car-parking to get everyone to the wall at the same moment. But that is a good problem to have – and we’ll get it right.

Here, in Cumbria, we are in the epicentre of this issue. No-one would feel more strongly the effect of a border; no-one can get to the wall so easily. It is incredibly important that we take the lead in this issue. We have 500,000 people in Cumbria. We should aim as close as we can to have every single family in Cumbria represented in the chain, linking hands with Scots across the border, and people across the UK – showing our welcome and belief.

So, please could everyone reading this, join us for that vital fifteen minutes on 19th July when we will break open our lights. Please register immediately on www.handsacrosstheborder.co.uk. If you can, organise a group in your parish or town. We need everyone. Please write with any thoughts, advice, or updates on what you have organised at a local level.

The decision on whether Scotland will leave the United Kingdom will be Scotland’s alone. But together we can ensure that when Scots go into the polling booths, they will remember our unbroken chain, rising and falling over the hills. We will stand – old and young – in patient, human solidarity. The cameras and satellites will fly over that great line of lights, and people clasped arm to arm, and they will show the world who we are. Each torch, each human link will be a sign of how much we value what the United Kingdom has been and done for the last four hundred years, and how much we believe in a shared future together. And the world will see that, in the end, when the United Kingdom was under threat we were prepared as nations to stand together.

20130613_210633

Reduce the number of Councillors

You have previously mentioned in an article that you would like to cut the number of MPs down to 100.

Bearing in mind that Councils nationwide are having to cut many millions from their budgets, here in Cumbria there does seem to be an excess of Councillors in comparison with other authorities.

It would certainly help with the cuts to come in the next few years.

20131210_160707

Cumbria walks: valley deep, mountain high

First published in The Telegraph on 12th February 2014

From my starting point at Patterdale to the summit of Helvellyn the fog was with me, as it had been for two days. I could just make out three Herdwick sheep on the ridgeline track ahead – one chocolate brown, one dark grey and one silver. They were each a year apart in age, I guessed. It was, I had read, a special track. It had been a place for Dark Ages hunts and Viking settlers (whose place-names surrounded me), and a route for bandits raiding the Borders. But it was very difficult to feel the history. Even when the fog cleared, I saw only a landscape of open moorland and deserted fields. I am the member of parliament for this area, and I had hoped to learn from constituents during my walk, but the first people I saw, two hours further north, asked me for directions. They were a family called Dodd from Manchester aiming to climb Great Dodd for Mr Dodd’s 50th birthday.

At Threlkeld a thin man with enormous whiskers on his bony cheeks stepped out of his cottage door. Hearing that I was heading up on to the summit of Blencathra, Barry Todhunter suggested he feed me first. He led me into a small sitting room, on the wall of which stood a framed fox-tail. He and his wife shared their chicken pie with me. His wife grew up on the farm that stood 100 yards away. They first met and fell in love, it seemed, at her farm gate. There was no sign of any children in the house, but there was a terrier puppy in the living room, and in an annex there were 50 dogs. They were foxhounds, with elongated legs – great speckled animals that came up almost to my waist. The pack had lived on the site, it seemed, for a very long time, and become more distinctive with each generation.
‘They are descended from Briton and his companion, a bitch called Cruel. They were owned by John Peel,’ Barry told me. Todhunter is an ancient surname meaning fox-hunter, and through some improbable genetic legacy Barry is now a fox-hunter. He has been the huntsman of the Blencathra pack for almost 30 years. This is about average for the Blencathra – there have been five in the last 150 years – but he looked to me as though he was good for another 20. I was not in horse country. The hunt that followed them did so on foot. At night it stopped in pubs to sing fell songs. Not so much the famous song about the owner of Briton and Cruel, who was born in 1776 (‘D’ye ken John Peel with his coat so gray/D’ye ken John Peel at the break of day’), but many about Jim Dalton, who became the huntsman in 1886. The songs recorded the detail of his routes over about 300 square miles of country, taking in the tops of Helvellyn, Skiddaw and Blencathra. You could have sung them in place of a map.

Along Barrowside and through Ashness Ghyll,

Our huntsman he halloed both loud and shrill,

And straight to Armboth his course he did take.

In a landscape that felt so deeply rooted in history, I half expected to come across some of the myths about giants and fairies that Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott had found – but I was struggling. Will, for example, lives across the valley from Barry. His family have farmed near the neolithic circle at Castlerigg for at least 400 years, perhaps even since the Vikings.

‘Do you have any legends about this area?’ I asked Will.

‘Like oral history? No. But my great-aunt did. I wish I had asked her before she died.’

‘What were her stories about?’

‘Well, the best one was about someone who shot a leopard in India.’

Barry had no myths about the hills either. Instead his legends focused on his predecessor as huntsman, Johnny Richardson, who escaped from a German prisoner-of-war camp and continued to hunt the hounds for 40 years until, running uphill on a cold day, he died from overexertion. Barry took me to a large shed that he had filled with a model railway. Dave, who lives two valleys away, had used his to recreate a postcard English landscape set about with elegant Victorian stations, but Barry had built a broad-gauge American railway that ran between giant water towers through an open prairie. When he is not hunting, Barry rides the American railways. He had just returned from a trip from Chicago to California.

By the time I left Barry, the sun was setting. I climbed the gentler south side of Blencathra. Blencathra was a word in the ancient Cumbric language, which everyone in this valley would once have spoken. The language was completely different from Scottish Gaelic or English. Its nearest relative was Welsh. Blencathra meant saddleback hill. The best surviving fragment of Cumbric is a lullaby. The words seem to emphasise how utterly different our ancestors were, in language and identity.

Peis Dinogat, e vreith, vreith,

o grwyn | balaot ban | wreith.

Chwit, chwit, chwidogeith,

gochanwn | gochenyn | wythgeith.

Dinogad’s smock, speckly, speckly,

Sewed from the fur of martens.

Whistle, whistle, whistly

we sing, the eight slaves sing.

In the rain and the dark, the rocks were slippier and sharper than I remembered. Climbing up the last 100 yards, I saw the silhouette of a sheep, its quizzical face looking down from the very summit. I slept on the top. At about 3am it seemed for a moment that the fog was clearing, and I could make out the red lights on the submarine aerials on the English coast. But at dawn there was nothing to be seen. I lit my stove to make some tea and porridge. The water was boiling before I realised I had somehow left both my mug and my spoon at Barry’s when repacking my bag. I ate the porridge with my fingers. There was nothing to be done about the tea.

I abandoned the fog at Blencathra and walked past Skiddaw, straight to the West Cumbrian coast at Maryport, turning there to Bowness-on-Solway. That section of the walk took six days. In the hills, the bracken and heather were cut with smooth emerald-green swards of sheep pasture. By Bassenthwaite I chatted to Sir Chris Bonington. Having made the first ascent of the South Face of Annapurna, in the Himalayas, he now lives looking at the back of Skiddaw. At Mirehouse I stayed with a man whose ancestor had captured a king of Afghanistan. His was a family that believed in getting things in writing. On the wall was a signed receipt that read, ‘Received one Afghan king, 1881′.

Then the ground flattened suddenly at Cockermouth into the Cumberland Plain. The walls went from limestone to sandstone, and from sandstone to hedges. At St Mungo’s church in Dearham I saw a stone depicting the Yggrassil, the tree central to the Viking pagan world, diplomatically supporting a Christian cross. Here I had passed an invisible border – the coal seam. Now that the pits have closed, life expectancy in Dearham is said to be almost 20 years lower than in neighbouring Bridekirk. At Silloth the harbour-master, who had moved from Dubai, introduced me to a Russian captain who had just sailed in from Kaliningrad and seemed a little confused that this sparsely populated part of north-west England lacked a ‘sailor’s club’. We directed him towards the pub.

At Bowness Mark Messenger walked me into the sea. We met at the old Roman fort, the very end of Hadrian’s Wall – which marked both a border of the Roman Empire and the border between England and Scotland. He had a broad pink face and was dressed in a green plastic smock, with a sack over his shoulder. Mark looked about 50. In his hand he carried a pole, to which was fixed a rigid net about the size of a small dining table. He smiled a lot. This reminded me that he had lost his teeth in a fight in Benidorm.

Mark was going fishing in the Solway. But first he had offered to guide me across a mile of water – from this point, on the English coast, to the Scottish coast. He explained that some fluke combination of the rippling outflow of the Esk and Eden rivers on our right and the tides of the Atlantic Ocean had left a patch of ground shallow enough to cross. This had not been possible at this point for 20 years, but it had been possible in the past. Somewhere near our feet was the bell of Bowness church, which Scottish raiders had dropped in the sand in 1626 and lost. The bells in Bowness were stolen back across the water in revenge from the churches on the Scottish coast.

Four other men, dressed like Mark in waterproof smocks, stood in the sea to the east. They had mostly worked in factories in Carlisle, but it seemed one had been on the railways. Walter Scott described men in the 18th century fishing in the Solway, spearing salmon on horseback – a difficult task from high above the water, with the refraction of the light. But then, as now, the greatest problem was the tides. A rip tide, with the wind behind it, moves faster than a person can run. It can drown them. The tide began behind me as a slow movement of brown water on grey sand, a break in the ripples of the river water, and then, as we pushed on, the sands began to vanish. But there was no wind, and Mark seemed calm.

He and his friends fished on foot. They caught the salmon on the ebb and flow in their large, rigid, hand nets. A barrage of angry river-owners and environmental agencies had tried to stop them from fishing. Licences were limited: they could now only fish in daylight hours, in the set season. Each fish needed to be tail-tagged and recorded in a book, and a plastic strip for each fish sent to an agency in Bristol. But they had no intention of stopping. Only 50 people now fish in this way. It is called haaf-netting – a Viking word – and Mark and his friends believe that people have been doing it in the Solway since the Viking era. As I passed one of them he shouted, ‘No one Mark has ever guided has made it back alive.’

Mark bared his gums, and we pressed on. The secret, he explained, is never to leave your feet still in the sand. If you do, the sand will disappear beneath your feet and you will be unable to pull your boots out. The other secret is to prod with your stick to make sure there isn’t a hidden shelf. The water was beginning to reach our chests and I wasn’t confident I would be able to swim in the waders. And then, just as suddenly as it had risen, the water began to recede, and Mark, knowing I was safe, turned back into the waves, holding his net high on his shoulders. He wasn’t sure whether he would be in time to catch the salmon on the flow. I climbed up on to a long shore littered with blocks of black granite, concrete and wooden pilings. There was a scum of bird feathers at the high-tide mark. Birds circled, paddled and floated on every side. As I worked my way inland I came across safer fords, which had once been highways for armies. Edward I died at Burgh by Sands.

He demanded that his bones should be boiled down and carried at the head of the troops in all future battles against the Scots. Here too thousands of men and horses of a Scottish army had drowned in an unexpected flood, trying to skirt Carlisle. I moved slowly towards a flat horizon over smoke-smudged sands. Reeds surrounded me. The border between England and Scotland at this point is the Sark, a trickle of a stream, which I could almost leap. A large sign on a white building said on one side, ‘Last house in Scotland’, and on the other, ‘First house in Scotland’. But what feature of the rock or soil made it Scotland? None that I could see. Instead, the differences came from the arbitrary end of a local council. The north end had a mown lawn and no litter; the south was unmown, with plastic bottles scattered around.

I crossed the M6 and then a railway bridge. A Virgin train passed beneath me at close to 125 miles per hour, hammering towards Glasgow. I was not anticipating this sudden frontier of sound, a pedestrian in the slipstream of heavy racing metal. And then, just a little further on, there was a high-voltage power line carrying Scottish power to England. And then I was through these lines and back into some of the loneliest, most sparsely populated terrain in Britain.

I was skirting the edge of the debatable land. This territory, which once belonged to neither England nor Scotland, lies in a flat depression between the Esk and the beginning of the Scottish hills. Until 1600 both governments decreed that anyone found living in it would be killed on sight. But it was settled repeatedly by border cowboys, horse-borne clans who kept cattle and paid blackmail (a word they invented) to protect their flocks. I climbed the narrow stone stairs of one of Johnnie Armstrong’s towers, standing by the Esk. It was four storeys high and one room wide, and the walls, six feet thick, were made of huge cold blocks. It was designed as a temporary safe house, a place to take refuge while Johnnie’s enemies, having stolen his cattle, tried to burn him out, and his friends – hopefully – rode to the rescue. Johnnie had no decent farmland to speak of, but was somehow able to support almost 160 men in his 16th-century band.

On a single raid they could steal thousands of cows. When the king of Scotland came south Johnnie rode to meet him in 1530, hoping to impress him, with his chosen men, all wearing cloth of gold. This was a mistake: the king hanged them all on the spot.

Duncan Telford lives in the Bailey valley, two days on from my Solway crossing. In his yard is a ruined bastle house – a smaller, one-storey version of a pele tower. The photocopies of copper-plate parish records on his dining table showed Telfords moving between farms in this valley, on the English side of the border, for 300 years. Before that, however, it seemed they came from Scotland. In particular from Dodhead, a homestead set in a bleak stretch of remote moorland, known, improbably, as ‘the Fair Dodhead’. Outside the kitchen window is a circle of standing stones. These look neolithic, but they were built by Duncan as a place where he and his friend Cack could drink, chat, and smoke whatever Duncan rolled. Beyond the stones stretched acres of rough, reed-infested, wet ground, on which stood a few sheep. The ground was very poor, and Duncan had apparently made no attempts to burn back the reeds, plant new grasses or drain it.

Duncan had persuaded a trekking company at Bailey Mill to lend us two horses. His was a full two hands higher than mine. We rode up behind Tarras Moss so he could show me where the clans had once taken refuge. The upper slopes were split with sudden peat hags; again and again we had to turn the horses round to try to find a path through streams, through bog, through gullies, and through sphagnum moss. Rather than splash through the streams, my horse preferred to jump dramatically – clearing each stream by at least four feet. Duncan’s ancestors, who specialised in navigating this moss, had been known as moss-troopers, or reivers.

Duncan named his son Reeve. He has a reiving tattoo. He likes the fact that they still use the old nicknames, calling people after their farms, or after other things.

‘Look at the names,’ he said. ‘Colin of Cumrook, Buggerback or Nebless Clem.’

What was your nickname? I asked.

Duncan pushed his hair back from his earring, took his hands from the reins, and rolled another cigarette. ‘What do you think?’ he said, grinning broadly. I had no idea.

From the Bailey I walked on to Hermitage Castle – a vast abandoned fortress in an otherwise almost entirely empty valley. In Newcastleton I found Duncan in the pub. This was surprising. He had told me he was banned from all the pubs in Newcastleton. He was there with his wife, son and daughter, his cousin Trevor, and his neighbour Steve. Big Colin Charnock, who was often with them, was absent: ‘South, buying cattle.’ In the corner, wearing cords and a V-neck jumper, sat Philip Howard. Philip’s family have lived for 41 consecutive generations in Naworth, a nearby castle. He was talking cheerfully to Duncan about ‘the hanging tree’, on which his ancestor had hanged several Armstrongs.

‘Sixty-three in two years,’ he said proudly. ‘We’ve another tree on which my father always promised me we hung 46 members of the Hay family – which was another good day. We had seven separate dungeons, but sadly that wing got burnt down. We’ve only got one left.’

We were interrupted by a miniature bagpipe. The player had a gaunt face, a goatee and a long white pony-tail. The bagpipes were the Border version – pushed with a bellows, rather than blown. First he played a ballad about the hanging of Johnnie Armstrong. Duncan seemed divided on this particular episode.

‘The only way to sort them out was to hang ’em, and hang all his men and all, simple as that I would think,’ he said.

‘But who was the bigger villain?’ the piper asked.

‘The king… The government,’ Duncan concluded.

Newcastleton is on the Scottish side of the border, Duncan lives on the English side. But Duncan insisted they were all one reiving culture. I wasn’t so sure. On a table beside us was a middle-aged couple from Melrose, and beyond them two water engineers from Edinburgh. They kept staring at Cack, who had come out from his caravan in full combat fatigues.

He looked very pale and was not singing. Duncan’s son had brought along some drumsticks. Duncan sat Reeve on his lap, and, while singing, they began to play a drum roll together, surprisingly well. No one else in the pub joined in.

Now the singer sang about Duncan’s ancestor Jamie Telford of Fair Dodhead. This was bold, since there are four different versions of the song, each one blaming a different family for betraying him. In this version the villains were the Eliots, whose chief still lives four miles out of town. Jamie was raided. The call to arms to rescue his flock covered every valley for 100 square miles: names of farms that were now nothing but a faint trace of stone in the reeds and farms that are still farms today.

Warn Gaudilands, and Allanhaugh,

And Gilmanscleugh, and Commonside.

Ride by the gate at Priesthaughswire,

And warn the Currors o’ the Lee.

And yet it was not quite untrue to say this was a scene unchanged from the days of the border reivers. Duncan was wearing a baseball cap and a T-shirt that said, ‘Redneck warrior.’ He was looking relaxed, so I asked him again what his nickname was:

‘Dunk the Punk,’ he replied.

Rory Stewart is the MP for Penrith and The Border.

Scotland and the Union

Rory speaks on Scotland’s place in the UK

Rory also spoke on the BBC’s Daily Politics show with Andrew Neil about the importance of preserving the Union. The interview can be found here – www.bbc.co.uk/i/b03tvhl9/?t=8m57s

Transcript of House of Commons Backbench Debate – 6th February 2014

Rory Stewart(Penrith and The Border, Conservative)

One thousand nine hundred years ago, Rome divided Britain with a wall. Britain is an island whose natural boundaries are the sea, and this wall split families and split tribes. Ever since that moment we have been debating this issue. These two fundamental principles for Britain are what we are debating today. They are in competition: are we divided nation against nation, or are we unified by culture and language? There is only one answer to that question, and it cannot be simply economics. If a relationship is going wrong—if a marriage is going wrong—the answer cannot simply be to say, ‘You can’t afford to break up because you are going to lose the house.” The answer has to be only one thing, which is, “I love you.” We in this House are struggling to express the nature of our love for Scotland. We are not very good, as politicians, at talking about emotions. We have become very bad at it, but we need to learn to do it, because otherwise a party that is trying to reduce, to shrink, to vanish will win.

What do we mean when we say, “I, as a Member of Parliament for an English constituency, love Scotland”? It would be personal to every single one of us. It could be that we love intellectual seriousness. I was paddling along in a canoe with Mr MacNeil a few months ago, and I would really miss him from that canoe. People in the United Kingdom would miss Scotland for different personal reasons—Scotland’s egalitarianism, its intellectual seriousness, its sense of realism and its sense of humour. I would be very ashamed and embarrassed to be part of a country that did not have Scottish Members of Parliament here.

Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw, Labour)
The hon. Gentleman is an expert in foreign affairs. Can he tell the House how much stronger Scotland would be as an independent country in relation to the world?

Rory Stewart
There are two answers to that question. First, Scotland must of course embrace the potential of being part of the United Kingdom in foreign affairs.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman himself represents what is good about our political settlement. He sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, so there is a Scottish voice on that Committee raising Scottish issues again and again, forcing us to focus on Scottish issues when we think about foreign policy, and that is something that we would deeply miss.

There is a great appeal to Scottish nationalism. We all feel it in our gut, and it is because the world is bewildering. People are angry. Some 85% of people in this country feel that politics is broken and 87% feel that society is broken. Our voters feel that Westminster is out of touch and that their lives have never been so complicated. Those are real feelings that we have to acknowledge and accept. But the answer to those problems is not to get smaller. When we face complexity and things that are bewildering in our everyday lives—when we feel angry or disappointed—the answer is not to get smaller, shut the door and pretend that we can shut those things out. The answer is to expand.

I have three suggestions on the lessons that we need to learn from Scottish nationalism. The first lesson is that it is not that Westminster is too far away: it is also that Edinburgh is too far away. The answer to the problems of our communities is to represent the issues of Argyll separately to the issues of Perthshire and the issues of the Borders. They are not the same issues. One of the great weaknesses in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland is the lack of real localism. Whether talking to someone in Muthill struggling with planning or someone in Kelso worried about economic development in their area, we need to learn from Mitterrand in France in 1983—hyper-localism and mayors at a local level—and not try to fool the Scottish people by pretending that transferring power from Westminster to Holyrood will solve those human problems.

The second thing that we need to do—and this is true for the north of England as much as for Scotland—is not to pretend that London and the south of England do not exist. We need to accept that they exist, that they are a challenge, that they have huge potential, and that we need to make them work for us, not pretend that they are not there.

The third thing is cultural links. It is a tragedy that the educational policy of the Scottish National party has made it more difficult for English students to study in Scottish universities and for Scottish students to study in English universities. We must reinforce the cultural links.

Finally, what we need is the human expression. On 19 July this year, I hope that 100,000 people will gather along that old Roman wall—English, Welsh, Irish and Scots—holding hands and linking arms across the border. Because in the end what matters is not the wall that divides us but the human ties that bind us in the name of love.

rory_exterior_jan2014

A CHAIN OF LIGHT TO UNITE BRITAIN

A campaign is being launched to gather one hundred thousand people stretching from coast to coast to show their love for the UK.

The campaign which is called ‘Hands Across the Border’ – http://handsacrosstheborder.co.uk/ –  aims to gather people of all ages, from across the country, in a human chain with torches on the evening of Saturday 19th July. The hope is to demonstrate to Scotland how much English, Welsh and Irish people value Scotland’s place in the UK and how sorry they would be if Scotland separated in the Independence referendum on 18th September 2014. And to bring them together with Scots from across the border.

The organisers are Rory Stewart, who is half English, half Scottish and Member of Parliament for Penrith and the Border; and campiagner and businesswoman Anne-Marie Trevelyan from Berwick-upon-Tweed. Rory Stewart’s constituency includes Hadrian’s Wall and half of the English Scottish Border. He will launch the campaign with a speech in the House of Commons on Thursday 6th February.

Rory Stewart said: “I think millions of people in Britain would like an opportunity to express their love for the UK and the fact that they would miss Scotland terribly. This is not an opportunity about economics; it’s about emotional links and solidarity. I believe we can find well over a hundred thousand champions of our future together.”

Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “As a local campaigner in North Northumberland I am acutely aware of the border as we cross back and forth across it at will. Friends, family and work-mates live their lives together unhindered by the technical border. We do not want to see a rigid border cutting off these ties.”

Alston Ambulance Meeting

RORY STEWART AND ALSTON COMMUNITY SAVE COMMUNITY AMBULANCE

Rory and Alston League of Friends have successfully saved the community ambulance from abolition. The decision by Northwest Ambulance Service and NHS Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group to retain the vehicle and to train twelve community first responders, marks the culmination of two and a half years of intensive meetings and negotiations. Despite a severe snow storm, over 350 local residents showed up to a community meeting, chaired by Rory, to show how strongly they felt that their ambulance should be retained.

The local MP praised the ‘tireless work’ of Dr Malcolm Forster and his team, who have put together a series of proposals over the past several months on how to make the community ambulance model work. As the highest and most isolated town in England,  it takes a minimum of 45 minutes for an ambulance based in Penrith or Carlisle to respond to an emergency in the area. The community therefore rely on the Alston Community Ambulance, run by local volunteer drivers and volunteer medical responders, to ensure dramatically reduced response times to emergency call outs.

At the meeting on Friday evening, NWAS and Cumbria CCG recognised local concerns, and confirmed they remained committed to the community model. They will now work with the local community to properly train the first responders team, and to ensure all necessary governance issues are addressed and compliant with Care and Quality Commission’s requirements

Speaking after the meeting, Rory said:

“The importance of today’s result cannot be stressed enough. That over 350 people have turned up tonight in a snowstorm, shows what the community ambulance means to Alston. They should be hugely proud of the efforts they have gone to, in order to save it. This is another great example of Cumbrian community action at its best: both in running the community ambulance, and in fighting passionately to keep it. It shows that if we make the right arguments and keep pushing, we can solve even the most knotty of problems. Particular thanks have to go to Dr Malcolm Forster, NWAS and Cumbria CCG, who together have overcome huge obstacles to save an absolutely vital lifeline for Alston community.”