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.

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