Page last updated at 03:20 GMT, Saturday, 1 May 2010 04:20 UK

Berwick-upon-Tweed: English or Scottish?

By Katie Dawson
BBC News in Berwick-upon-Tweed

Royal Regiment of Scotland
The Royal Regiment of Scotland has historic links with Berwick

With Westminster being almost 350 miles away from Berwick-upon-Tweed, do its residents feel connected to English politics and the change which may happen on 7 May?

With bagpipes playing and Scottish flags fluttering in the wind, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Scotland.

But this is Berwick-upon-Tweed, part of Northumberland - the most northern town in England and just two-and-a-half miles from the Scottish border.

It has a turbulent history - being passed between English and Scottish hands at least 13 times.

With the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh just over an hour away by road, and Westminster more than six hours by car, do the people feel more Scottish than English?

The issue hit the headlines in 2008 when ITV carried out an unofficial referendum to find out if residents would prefer their town to be part of Scotland.

The poll saw 1,182 voters in favour of becoming part of Scotland and 775 in favour of staying in England.

The people of Berwick feel really independent. You are a Berwicker first, Scottish or English second
Derek Sharman, historian

Better financed public services, including free personal health care for the elderly, were cited as the main reasons.

Prior to the TV poll, Scottish National Party MSP Christine Grahame lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament calling for the town to "return to the fold".

But politicians warned it would be too complicated and would cause major upheaval.

Ms Grahame, MSP for south Scotland, said: "It was a semi-light hearted referendum but I think everyone was quite surprised what came out of it.

"Everyone seemed to find Scotland quite attractive."

'Back of beyond'

The Scottish Parliament was created almost 11 years ago following devolution.

There are differences between public services in Scotland and England - for example Scotland has free care for the elderly and no upfront tuition fees for Scottish students.

A system called the Barnett formula is used to decide the amount of public funding allocated to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

"As devolution has cut its teeth and aged, I think Berwick people are more aware of the differences perhaps than anyone else in England because [Scotland] is so close and they can see what's happening over the border," Ms Grahame said.

On Wednesday, soldiers from B Company of the Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, marched through Berwick after returning from Afghanistan.

Trevor and Marion Bates
Trevor Bates with his wife Marion, who feels Berwick is a "lost town"

The battalion is an amalgamation of two regiments, one being the King's Own Scottish Borderers, who were based in Berwick.

Berwick resident Eileen Buchanan, who came to watch the parade, said she felt the town was detached from what was happening at Westminster.

"They do nothing for us at this end of the country," she said. "Nothing. This is like the back of beyond as far as London is concerned."

Marion Bates, who was born and raised in Berwick, waved a Scottish flag as she watched the parade with her husband Trevor Bates, who was born in Scotland.

When asked if she felt her hometown should be part of Scotland, she said: "It's hard to say when you are born English.

"Berwick is just a lost town.

"My youngest son came out of the Army two years ago and there are no jobs. There is nothing for him."

Richest port

Mr Bates added: "From Parliament in London to Newcastle, that's where it stops."

Part-time student Jonathan Bain, 34, said the difference between funding for public services in Scotland and England was unfair.

He said he would rather Berwick be part of England, but added that funding systems for both countries should be the same.

Berwick-upon-Tweed was once a rich and important Scottish town

"You are either in the UK or you're not," he said.

"I would rather leave it as it is in England but I think it is unfair how funding in Scotland is different."

When you look at Berwick's history, it's no surprise that the town is divided.

In Anglo-Saxon times, Berwick-upon-Tweed was part of the Kingdom of Northumbria - an area stretching between York and Edinburgh.

In 1018, following a battle between the Scots and the Northumbrians, it became part of Scotland.

Its importance as a Scottish town grew and, by the Middle Ages, it was the richest port in the country.

In 1296, England's King Edward I captured Berwick-upon-Tweed, beginning a period of warfare between the two nations which saw the town change hands 13 times.

The last time it changed hands by force was in 1482 when it came under English control.

Even then it remained independent, with legal documents referring to it as being of the Kingdom of England but not within it.

In 1885, it became part of the county of Northumberland for administrative purposes and was fully integrated into the county in 1974.

Derek Sharman
Historian Derek Sharman said the people of Berwick felt independent

"It's been a ping pong ball for centuries," said Derek Sharman, a historian and tour guide in Berwick. "It's a very very on-the-edge kind of place.

"The people of Berwick feel really independent. You are a Berwicker first, Scottish or English second."

Berwick-upon-Tweed has been a Liberal Democrat seat since its MP Sir Alan Beith won it in 1973.

Labour's candidate Alan Strickland said the town needed a stronger voice in Westminster, adding: "But moving the border isn't the answer.

"We need an MP who can take the area's needs to the heart of government, which the Lib Dems simply can't offer."

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the Conservative parliamentary candidate, said: "Voters in Berwick-upon-Tweed... do not believe that it is whether they are in England or Scotland that is important, although local people do want to see the Barnett formula scrapped and a fairer funding system brought in.

"Of more importance to our daily lives is the critical issue of dualling the A1, which is the single biggest thing we can do to bring jobs and wealth to north Northumberland."

Sir Alan Beith, who is standing again, was unavailable for comment.

Other candidates standing in Berwick-upon-Tweed are: BNP: Peter Mailer; UK Independence Party: Michael Weatheritt.

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