Monthly Archives: August 2014

Gretna becomes focal point for Scottish independence No vote

Article first published in the Financial Times on 24 August 2014.

In a field not far from Gretna Green, a place long associated with weddings, a monument to the sense of Britishness felt by people on both sides of the border is growing day by day.

With less than a month until Scots vote on whether to end their country’s union with England after 307 years, the Auld Acquaintance Cairn has become a focus for members of the public to demonstrate their desire for the union to continue.

In the past five weeks, more than 10,000 people have visited the cairn to add stones, many painted with messages or flags.

The instigator of the project, Rory Stewart, Conservative MP for the Cumbrian constituency of Penrith and The Border, wanted, he says, to give people north and south of the border the chance to show their affection for the union and support for its continuation.

“I worry something has gone wrong over the past 20-30 years with British identity,” says Mr Stewart, an Old Etonian of Scottish parentage.

But, he adds: “I do believe in the end that British people do care about keeping their country together. This provides an opportunity for people to express that.”

The cairn has an outer wall, built by Cumbrian and Scottish drystone wallers, and a central chamber, rising to 12ft, which can be entered.

The public’s stones are piling up in the space between the two. The design draws on the Bronze Age Clava burial cairns of Inverness.

Asked whether the cairn could persuade undecided Scottish voters, Mr Stewart likens the referendum to a marriage where one person is thinking of leaving. “It’s important to say: stay with Britain.”

He believes the outcome of the vote on September 18 is far from certain.

“I think it’s going to be very, very close.” Five points, he predicts, is the most that will divide the two sides.


As part of Hands Across The Border’s highly successful project to build an enormous cairn in Gretna as a symbol of unity and friendship in the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, Rory Stewart MP will be welcoming ex-servicemen and members of the public to our ‘Commemoration at the Cairn’ event this Sunday from 12 until 3pm. To tie in with the First World War centenary celebrations and to mark the centenary of the outbreak of actual fighting at the Battle of Mons, the event will focus upon the unique history of the local area during the Great War, and will be held with the kind support of the recently opened and nearby Devil’s Porridge Museum, which focuses upon Gretna’s fascinating history as a munitions factory.

Gretna was once the site of the UK’s largest munitions factory which employed some 30,000 people and stretched 12 miles right across the border from Eastriggs in Scotland to Longtown in England. It was also the site of the Quintinshill rail disaster, the UK’s worst ever rail crash, in which some 215 Scottish troops were tragically killed on their way to Gallipoli. The event will have interesting speeches, fascinating exhibits and plenty of food, fun and activities for all ages. All nearby ex-servicemen’s organisations have been invited, along with staff from the nearby MOD Longtown, and we expect a strong turnout.

Rory Stewart has said: “The cairn is being built by people of all political persuasions and none. Regardless of your views on the future of the UK, the event will be about remembering and celebrating what has brought us together and the strength of our shared heritage as part of the United Kingdom. It will be a fantastic opportunity for learning and reflection for members of the public and ex-servicemen alike.” 

Lt Gen Sir Graeme Lamb KBE CMG DSO, a Scottish former Commander of the Field Army and Director of UK Special Forces, will be our special guest at the event. He will be giving a short speech and will be available to speak to the press about his views on the Union. Lt Gen Lamb was deputy commanding officer of multi-national forces in Iraq and was special advisor to US General Stanley McChrystal in Afghanistan.

The Auld Acquaintance cairn is a traditional, hand built, dry-stone structure being built upon the precise Scotland-England border in a bend of the River Sark. As the referendum draws closer, the project continues to show promise as one of the most successful and heartfelt appeals for unity in the British Isles, and is the only ‘physical’ opportunity for English, Welsh and Northern Irish people to demonstrate their belief in Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. Thousands of visitors have already come to our site, bringing stones from as far afield as Cornwall, Sutherland and Texas to place on the cairn. The dry-stone walling for the inner chamber and outer wall, having been conducted by drystone wallers and using stone from both sides of the border, has finished and the cairn is now visually very impressive. Directions to the site can be found on our website here:

Celebrating Scotland and the Union at the ‘Auld Acquaintance’

Hands Across the Border has launched a new film to celebrate the ‘Auld Acquaintance’ and the thousands of volunteers who have traveled to the cairn to lay a stone. There is still a month to go before the referendum, and we are encouraging anyone still eager to show they care about Scotland ,and who want it to stay part of the United Kingdom, to bring friends and family along to the cairn, to leave their own personal message for the Union.

To support the project further, please visit our website here.

Rory speaks to Channel 4 News from Iraq

Rory Stewart MP and Nadim Zahawi MP speak to Channel 4 News from Iraq. The two MPs are carrying out a fact-finding mission to better understand the situation on the ground, and the ways in which Britain can support.


Local MP, Rory Stewart, has expressed his delight after Penrith
residents have voted by a margin of two to one for the setup of their
own local town council. The Penrith and the Border MP, who has
campaigned strongly for greater localism, especially within his role
as the Chair of the APPG for Local Democracy, has been a key supporter
of the campaign from the outset, and helped distribute thousands of
leaflets within the town, promoting the benefits of a council that
would focus solely on the needs of Penrith.

After receiving a petition signed by over 1500 local residents, Eden
District Council organised a postal ballot which was sent out to over
12,000 residents of the town eligible to vote. In a turnout of 41 per
cent. which is significantly above average for ballots on community
governance, 65 per cent responded positively to the proposal for the
town’s own democratically elected council. A local review group will
present their findings formally to Eden District Council on 18th
September, where if formally ratified, the necessary arrangements will
be set in place for the first town council elections in May next year.

Rory Stewart said:

“This is absolutely fantastic news for Penrith. Local residents have
voted resoundingly in favour of more local democracy, giving them
greater control over the future of their town, and the way in which
local services are run. It is at this level where people know more,
care more, and can do more, and it is why I firmly believe we need to
continue devolving power away from central government and back into
the hands of local communities, to allow them to realise their own

From May onwards, Penrith residents will be able to decide for
themselves what they value most and how the town should prioritise its
time, energy and resources – be it on housing, our high streets, or
preserving our small, market town character – to ensure Penrith
remains somewhere both wonderful and distinctive.”


Rory Stewart MP is signposting constituency businesses to a package of measures to assist rural entrepreneurs in the county, following Cumbria Rural Growth Network’s recent launch of a free planning advisory service. The new service forms just part of a comprehensive range of new business support initiatives targeted at boosting economic performance in the county.

Rory Stewart said: “I’d love to make all businesses in the constituency aware of this free service, available to farms and retailers and everything in between, which will be delivered by Rural Futures (North West) Ltd.. It is so important for businesses wishing to grow, or wishing to gain a foothold in the local economy, to benefit from sound planning advice, yet this can so often be very costly. This new service will help ensure that planning need not be an obstacle to business development, and also ensure that businesses are kept abreast of changes in the planning system.”

John Welbank, the managing director of Rural Futures (North West) explained that “Planning can still be a major obstacle for business development in rural areas so early advice can be the key to success. The new, free service will be able to assist businesses develop high quality planning submissions that understand the planning constraints within the county. The planning system is changing rapidly so it is vital that businesses are aware of what will and won’t be supported.

In certain situations full planning consent may not even be required. Recent government announcements on permitted development rights will make a significant difference to new business development projects, especially those associated with redundant farm buildings. Even within the National Park it may now be possible to change the use of buildings without the need for a full planning submission. These changes are very new and it is vital that applicants get the right advice from the outset. It is clear that the government is serious about opening up economic opportunities in rural areas. The new service is here to assist this process.”

The programme is funded through both European (ERDF) and UK sources, and forms just one part of a group of business support measures that fall under the Cumbria Business Growth Hub and Rural Growth Network.

Businesses can contact Rural Futures directly on 01524 736845 or
through the Growth Hub web portal at


Some of Britain’s best-loved public figures threw their support behind Rory Stewart MP’s Hands Across The Border initiative last week, with actress and activist Joanna Lumley and explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes visiting the Auld Acquaintance cairn at Gretna to add their support to a campaign celebrating Scotland’s place in the Union.

Crowds thronged Sir Ranulph’s visit on Monday 28 July to hear him express his belief in the strength of the partnership of the United Kingdom throughout history. Sir Ranulph spoke movingly on the partnership of Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish soldiers throughout both of the World Wars, and the brotherhood he felt with Glaswegian friends in the army in his service during the Cold War. He said: “I’ve never been involved in any political campaign of any sort until this, because after so many years trying to break world records as British people, when we planted our flag at the North Pole, it was the Union Jack and we were proud of that. Let’s remain friends as we have been for a huge amount of time.'” The event was also attended by mountaineers Doug Scott, who with Scotsman Dougal Haston was the first confirmed Briton to summit Mt Everest, and Alan Hinkes, the first British mountaineer to scale all 14 peaks over 8,000 metres. Hundreds added their own stones to the ever-growing cairn, brought from all parts of the UK, and children painted their own designs on the stones provided adding a spark of colour all around the perimeter.

Even more supporters gathered again on Thursday 31 July to hear actress and campaigner Joanna Lumley describe her personal relationship with the United Kingdom. Joanna said: “I just don’t see that we can ever be divided; we are all so interlinked with each other. No matter whether we live north or south of the border, if you scratch back at our histories we are all related. Humanly, it just doesn’t seem possible, separating us.” Many agreed, contributing stones decorated with a variety of colourful designs and heartfelt messages. Amidst a joyful, village fete-esque atmosphere, the event gained coverage from both BBC and ITV regional news and was featured on the BBC website.

The event is the only ‘physical’ opportunity for English, Welsh and Northern Irish people to demonstrate their belief in Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. It aims to be one of the most exciting and ambitious mass participation events of the year ahead of September’s Referendum on Scottish independence. Historians Simon Schama, David Starkey, Max Hastings and Anthony Beevor, the philosopher AC Grayling, Field Marshal Sir Charles Guthrie, and the writer Alain de Botton have joined the hundreds of people continuing to arrive at the site on a daily basis, to contribute their stones to the project, and have their part in this deciding chapter of our national history. As the Referendum draws closer, the project continues to show promise as one o fthe most successful and heartfelt appeals to maintain the Union.

The cairn – named The Auld Acquaintance – is a traditional circular dry-stone structure which will be created over the next few months, during which thousands of visitors will have the chance to visit and place a stone on the cairn as a symbol of the UK’s commitment to stay together. Individuals and families are invited to bring their own stone, or alternatively to use traditional slate, lime and sandstone supplied on-site. Dry-stone wallers from both sides of the border will be working on the construction, which has been designed by the architect Paul Jakulis in a bend of the River Sark – the precise borderline – next to Scotland’s First House.



As the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta approaches, Rory Stewart is supporting the government’s initiative to set up a consultation into our democratic system and how we can develop it, and has written to all secondary schools in Penrith and The Border to encourage them to get involved in debating the future of British democracy. The consultation is considering different options which include the potential for a written constitution, which Rory has long been a supporter of and is encouraging schools, businesses, individuals and organisations to consider a number of questions relating to our ruling institutions.

Rory Stewart said: “I feel the basic problem in politics today, is the distance between citizens and politics. We need real constitutional upheaval to give power back to people. We need to involve people much more closely in politics. We need to educate a new generation about politics. This is an opportunity to do all of this. It goes to the very root of our democracy and the history of our liberties. It also touches on how we can involve more people, of all ages, in the democratic process, and how to get people talking about the institutions that govern us and the extent of their powers.The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee are getting the debate going with a number of questions, the key one of which is: does the UK require a written constitution, and what ought it to contain? I would be delighted to hear from constituents on this matter, and to hear their views, which I shall gladly submit to the Select Committee ahead of the consultation’s end in January 2015.”

The consultation and a series of events will continue until 1st January 2015, and comments can be sent to Rory, or placed on his policy suggestion page, or directly to [email protected] or by post to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.