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Last Updated: Monday, 15 January 2007, 13:11 GMT
Town's historic place in Union
By Reevel Alderson
Social affairs correspondent, BBC Scotland

Three hundred years ago, the Scottish Parliament voted itself out of existence when the Lords and Barons passed the Act of Union, politically conjoining Scotland with England.

The act was one of the most significant moments in the creation of the United Kingdom, but officially it is being barely marked.

I went across the Border to Berwick, which remains a medieval walled town, to canvas views on the tercentenary.

Berwick upon Tweed
Berwick was Scottish before being captured by the English

It is small wonder that Berwick was fought over for centuries, changing hands between Scotland and England until 1482 when it was finally captured by the English.

Viewed from within the walls of Marygate in the town centre, the evidence of Berwick's chequered history remains in the accents of the people - part Scots Borders, part soft Northumbrian burr.

And the town's football team "The Wee Rangers," plays in the Scottish League.

In the past, there can have been no certainty of peace in Berwick.

Its walls and fortifications are the latest built in Britain, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Just inside them are the town barracks, built to defend the town in 1717, 10 years after the Act of Union which formally ended Scots independence - but crucially just two years after the Jacobite Rising of 1715.

There were great celebrations here four years ago for the 400th anniversary of the Union of the Crowns, when Scotland's King James VI became monarch of England as well.

Alan Beith
I think the phrase 'The United Kingdom' is actually lost on a lot of people - they don't realise that Scotland is a different nation
Alan Beith MP

His entry into Berwick, first town of his new kingdom, was marked by huge pomp.

Berwick's veteran Liberal Democrat MP, Alan Beith, recognises that the tercentenary of the Act of Union - effectively forging the nation of Great Britain out of two independent parts - should also be a time of celebration.

But he says he is not surprised that it is not.

"Across England, where history isn't always taught that much, I don't think that people realise these are two nations who agreed to work together.

Commercial boom

"I think the phrase 'The United Kingdom' is actually lost on a lot of people. They don't realise that Scotland is a different nation with a different background and different traditions," said Mr Beith.

Walk along the Town Quay, the ramparts of the wall overlooking the Tweed, and you see how Berwick was once highly prosperous.

Merchants' houses built in the 18th Century stand as testament to the commercial boom experienced by the town in the years after the Act of Union was passed and two customs systems became one.

Yet in 1707, Berwick's merchants were opposed to it.

Berwick Barracks
Berwick Barracks was built to defend the town in 1717

Chris Green, of Berwick Borough Museum, said: "Initially the guild weren't terribly happy, and they tried to petition the government to be compensated for the dues that had been levied on Scottish grain.

"If there hadn't been a Union, Berwick would have carried on in a grim slough of depression as it had done throughout the 17th Century."

The debate about the Union is again coming to the fore as Scotland prepares for parliamentary elections in May 2007.

From Berwick's standpoint, there is once again uncertainty.

Running better

Alan Beith says the people of Berwick may not recognise the significance of the anniversary of the Union, but they are grateful for the end to cross-Border strife.

"They are also conscious of the differences, and sometimes a bit envious that on the Scottish side things like tuition fees or provision for schools and public services and care for the elderly are running better than they are on the English side."

The Union came into full effect on 1 May, 1707 when the English Parliament's own act came into force.

It is unlikely that anniversary will be marked either as it comes just two days before Scotland votes for its devolved parliament after a campaign which will surely have centred on the three centuries-old Union.

See more about the Act

Divisions rage despite the Union
26 Dec 06 |  Scotland
Union anniversary to be marked
09 Nov 06 |  Scotland
Union recognition
10 Apr 06 |  Magazine

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