The credit crisis has had wide-ranging effects, from a shortage of mortgage funds to excess housing supplies to a lack of student loan money. But none seems stranger than the plight of a small, north England town. The town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, located on the North Sea, would rather be Scottish. Having changed hands 13 times in conflicts between England and Scotland, the town doesn’t necessarily identify itself with either country anyway. Its distance from London and proximity to the Scottish capitol Edinburgh further confuses the issue. And both countries haven’t always been sure where the town belongs; laws and other official dealings written in the 1500s cite the “Kingdom of England, Scotland, and Wales and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.” It is a combination of this uncertain history and the current economic malaise that pushes this small port town towards secession.
As it turns out, Scotland has better social welfare programs. The health care is superior, Scots’ university tuition is covered by the state, and the unemployment benefits are more generous. In a time of economic uncertainty, people increasingly look to the government for support, and the residents of Berwick would rather turn to Edinburgh than London. That the town has one of the lowest average wages in England and highest unemployment rates further sweetens the Scottish appeal. It doesn’t help that Berwick, being substantially closer to the Scottish capitol, feels that London is out of touch with its situation. Given these economic and political conditions, some Berwick residents are pushing for drastic changes.
Already this year, realtor Euan Aitchison has sold 25 Scottish properties to Berwick residents. Most of these properties are so close to the current border that it is no more than a 10 minute drive back to Berwick. This has allowed many of the transplants to maintain their jobs in England while simultaneously enjoying the benefits of Scottish residency. But if certain members of the Scottish and UK parliaments have their way, these efforts may soon be moot. A motion has already been introduced in the Scottish Parliament calling for the town to return to Scotland, while UK Parliamentarians have vowed to prevent the town from moving. Debate in both Parliaments is sure to be lengthy and contentious, even though 79% of the town’s residents support the border change. Even if the change is approved by the necessary legislatures, executing the move faces substantial hurdles. For starters, the English and Scottish legal systems are quite different, as are the educational systems. Nonetheless, the town’s residents are drawn to the idea by the benefits. A simpler solution may be to provide Scottish-style services to the residents of North Northumberland, as Berwick’s Liberal Member of Parliament Alan Beith has suggested.