The English Are Coming! The English Are Coming!

There’s nothing you can tell me about beacons on the Border – I come from Selkirk. It is part of local lore that when danger threatened, the bonfires were lit on the hilltops and everybody got ready for attack.


Put all to fyre and sworde, burne Edinborough towne, so rased and defaced when you have sacked and gottenwhat ye can of it, as there may remayne forever a perpetual memory of the vengeunceof God. That was the English instruction in the mid-1600s.

And it wasn’t just Crown versus Crown over the Border. Families and clans had long-running conflicts from which no one was safe as reivers and brigands cavorted savagely and with impunity. The english words ‘blackmail’ and ‘rustling’ derive from the time.

Home must be guarded whatever betide, and the brave lads of Yarrow must saddle and ride, when the beacon is lit on the Border…those words may date from centuries gone but we still sing them today in Selkirk where the commemoration of the defeat at Flodden – 600 years ago – is central to the collective town memory.


So when I hear of a ‘hands along the border’ idea to link people along Hadrian’s Wall and ignite a series of beacons, I’m intrigued. The Tory MP Rory Stewart is promoting the plan as a means of telling Scots not to vote for independence. I think it’s a good one. It’s voluntary and collective, moving in its imagery and potentially inspiring in impact.

There are questions though. As you’ll gather, the beacons weren’t used as a means of saying Hello. They weren’t a warming welcome to our friends over the Border. When the hilltops were ablaze, it created panic and fear, desperate attempts to hide property, people fled from homes, weapons were broken out and everyone knew that, if it wasn’t them, somebody nearby would lose their livestock, home, and family members to unsparing brutality and rape. Beacons have been adopted in modern times as emblems of peace linking people, it’s true, but the history Rory Stewart is alluding to was anything but peaceful.


I also think it is contradictory to use the Border itself as an icon of Unionism. One of the weird aspects of the debate has been the Yes claim that there will be no formal border in the sovereign sense with guards and passport checks but it is a constant theme of the Union that a frontier will remain, in currency, trade and movement of people. Linking arms along the line emphasizes the very thing Stewart wants to overcome – the dividing line between countries.

Indeed I thought the message from his personal history of the area was that it was artificial in the first place – I suppose all border are historically, except those composed of mountains or oceans. It was based on the idea that we were all part of Middleland from the Forth down into (what now is) England and the frontier was the fault of the Romans so we shouldn’t really bother with it now. Pity about the last 1000 years, really.

But, effective as this could be as an image, if it works, the question for us is: will it have impact? Do you think anyone will change their vote because thousands form a human chain and light bonfires at night? Is there some ancient primeval urging calling us to stay united? I think it might encourage Borderers themselves, substantially No voters I would guess, to stay loyal to Union and some will join in. I wonder what the English people would think if the Scots massed on the other side of there Border at the same time? It could be a project for Yes – to copy the demonstration in favour of Yes.

But the striking thing about the Stewart demonstration is how it conflicts with the orchestrated line of the British government and the official Better Together campaign.

Suppose, instead of coming after a year in which lorry loads of political slurry have been emptied on the Scots by the government, this had been done at the start of the Unionist resistance to self-determination. It would have been a non-governmental, mass demonstration of affection whose images would now be routinely repeated on screen and could have set a positive tone to the whole debate. It would have been a point of reference for them. Instead it’s a one-man afterthought, unfortunately tagged to a television documentary of doubtful historical veracity and is left looking forlorn and desperate as the barrage of regressive propaganda hails down – the Treasury’s ‘assessment’ of the financial implications is due in weeks. (I’m not expecting to hear independence will make Scots wealthier, but you never know).


Why did it take a lone MP to think up something remotely positive to say about Britain? It shows how lacklustre and dreary, how knuckle-dragging and unappealing the whole Union show has been. In fact, here’s a question. When did you last year someone say with a straight face that it is a clever and well run campaign? I don’t think even their own side claim that now. It has become a crisis-ridden parody which has earned a place for McDougall and Darling in the Horror section of the Political Joke Book.

I see today that unnamed Labour people claim that David Cameron is ‘toxic’ to the campaign. What an insight! How smart these senior Labour figures are to work out after only a year or so that the most right wing, Eton educated posh Tory leader in history who is crushing working people and the disabled while backing the bankers might be not a very clever choice of comrade in a Scottish election. Why did we stop voting Labour?

I smell a rat. I think Labour are now trying to extricate themselves from the looming disaster by blaming the Tories for a dismal campaign and, even if it isn’t a total loss, then a very close-run thing that leaves us where we were – with ill-defined Devo Max plans on the stocks and no commitment to enact them. Labour knew exactly who Cameron was and what the likely implication was of working with him. They misjudged it, horribly, in the desperate hope of crushing Salmond and finishing off he SNP. They believe they would win comfortably. Instead, as time goes on, the flimsy basis of the British Union is exposed as are the lies of the MPs and the secretly aligned experts who back them and the very voting base of Labour is being educated in how this country really works and in whose interests. A significant number of them are disengaging from Labour’s message, dismayed at their new friends, unconvinced by Lamont or Miliband as leaders and hearing a true left wing community agenda from the Yes campaign.

I’m afraid, like Rory’s beacons, it is all too late for Labour.

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24 thoughts on “The English Are Coming! The English Are Coming!

  1. Is that Rory Stewart , the Tory who in this celebration of Bettertogetherness , is pushing for the Chairmanship of the Defence Select Committee, the same guy who was paid £8000 by the BBC for ‘ documentary ‘ work?
    Nice to know, his raised profile and positive vision for the Union had at least one silver lining – for him.

  2. Latest UK polls put the Tories only 1 % point behind Labour.

    The ‘toxic’ Tories are definitely going to win the UK election in 2015 so what is the point in Scots voting NO in 2014.

    Why hand David Cameron the prize headline of being, “The Prime Minister who saved Britain”?

    Labour will never be forgiven in Scotland if that were to happen.

  3. See that crafty Alicsammin gave them the rope and the time to work out what he wanted them to do with it The only pity is they are such slow learners But he knew that too

  4. “Borders” I used to visit all the border towns many years ago when I was in the Textile business. I always have a special feeling when I cross over “The Border” from the south and know I am back “home” in Scotland to this day. It seems to be particular tho’ to the English folks in my experience that many have a very “insular” outlook – anything beyond the Channel is foreign, overseas, not to be trusted.
    I live about 30 mins in the car from the French Border with Switzerland. I walk, cycle or ski according to the season in the Jura. Apart from the occassional stone marker there is nothing except local knowledge to tell you which country you are in. You might meet French folks who might tell you where there are some good mushrooms are to be had or even where they have seen a Capercailzie – which country? Of secondary importance. Maybe we would converse about Scotland and usually there is a very positive memory to recall. I still have my “British passport” as do my kids. The third generation have a mix of Swiss and Swedish passports but they all know about their Scottish roots and Brave’s Princess Merida! I look forward to the day I can change my passport to a Scottish one but there are no “foreigners” in my family whereever we come from. Family ignores borders.

  5. Dear me you would think that Public School educated boy would know where the Border is. I do not remember how many times in the National Press that people from Newcastle would howl that they were trying to cut their city in half. As things stand now I doubt that Rory can get half a dozen to stand with him on Hadrian’s Wall such is the toxicity of the campaign by Better Together.

    • Helena,
      They will ship them with buses from anywhere, to try and make it work! Remember who, and what we are dealing with.

  6. Another fantastic article Derek.

    One other point though is that as you mention Hadrian’s Wall hasn’t been a border for 2000-odd years and at it’s Southernmost point is 60 miles south of the current Scottish border. So it’s really unlikely (except through TV) that many Scots will actually see these torches – it’ll mostly be bemused Cumbrians and Northumbrians who will have that pleasure.

    And slightly off-topic – Smailholm Tower near Kelso provides an excellent feel of what the times of the Border Reivers must have been like – it’s small fortified tower where the local landownder lived and where all his livestock could be stored when he had unfriendly visitors.

    • Comment box fixed I see. I agree about the current border not being along Hadrian’s Wall. But maybe the people of the North of England would want to join an Independent Scotland? Perhaps Rory has inadvertently channeled an underlying wish from his constituents.

      • They might have a few flags flying, saying just that! Do not think our fantastic TV stations will show them though!

  7. Robert Roddick.

    Why is the unnamed Labour MP shy of giving his name?

  8. While the symbolism may be a bit skewed, you can bet your bottom britcoin it will be presented in the MSM as a momentous and moving moment for the “grassroots” No campaign. I’ll be very interested to see if it is indeed popular with Scots, borderers or otherwise, and particularly so if Jon Snow or one of his team ventured up for a live report to ask participants about the motivation. I’d bet there will be more than a few UKIP/Tory/Hard Labour voices braying about ridding themselves of the deep-fried subsidy junkie that is Scotland.

  9. Couldn’t leave a comment earlier for some reason. However all is well once more.

    Just wanted to say that the lorry loads of slurry appear to have fertilized the Yes Campaign. So please, no slurry for BT!

  10. Oh cool, back on Safari and posting is active.

    Oh they’ve been throwing pelters at each other for a couple months now Derek. The latest in todays Guardian (who knew?), should Cameron quit if Scotland leaves the union?

    No subtle hints there then from Lib/Labs favourite tome. 🙂

  11. Both Yes and BT have studied the 1995 Quebec independence referendum. This Border Run stunt looks familiar:

    Given that they will stop at nothing, I wonder if the unionist government in Westminster will twist the arms of train and bus companies to discount or even subsidise travel on the day as the federalists did in quebec?

  12. Dave Robertson

    I’m English, I’m already here and I’m voting YES!

  13. So glad to be back live. Can’t live without you, I’m afraid.

    About a No Vote. Not that there’s going to be one. But as psychological back up and Plan B strategy.

    A No vote will not be a loss or a defeat – it will be a delay – but for how long?

    Think. Tories will win the 2015 Gen Election.

    New stock market crash with new banking crisis. Uk debt reaches 4 trillion.

    D. Cameron has all but guaranteed an EU Referendum in 2017. And how will that go ?

    The English will vote EU Out. The Scots will vote EU In.

    By this time , the utter folly of a No vote in 2014 will be clear even to the most rabid Scottish Unionist No voter.

    Political upheaval across Scotland. New IndyRef called. If refused, almost certain, Scotland will become ungovernable.

    Stop thinking. It ain’t going to happen.

    A Yes vote in September IS going to happen.

  14. Somebody needs to tell Rory Stewart that Hadrian’s Wall is NOT the Scottish border.

  15. 171.5 kms = 58,500 participants finger tip to finger tip. Yep that’ll happen…

    • Free Scotland

      Finger tip to finger tip? Oh no, it’s worse than that. They’re going to link arms, so they’ll need even more clowns to cover the full length.

  16. Odd thing about the border is that either it exists and there are countries either side of it – or it doesn’t, so there aren’t.

    To Britnats, ‘the country’ is Britain. Accept that, and how can Scotland – a bit of Britain / England – be simultaneously a country too? So we’re not a country – ?

    Maybe that’s why the call is to rally at Hadrian’s Wall. It concerns Scotland or The North or something peripheral – therefore no need even to get the border right. To those who say they’re clever and know what’s best for us – that’s how unimportant knowing about ‘up there’ is. It’s aw daft teuchters.

    Which is another demonstration of why we need ‘good-bye’ to Westminster rule, so we can enjoy our friendships with those any side of any border.

  17. Concerning the border, Scotland and England used to be separate land masses, divided by the Iapetus Ocean. However they collided a wee while ago, like your worst nightmare of a blind date. It’s intriguing to think that if the angles of travel had been just a little different, London would be the capital of Greenland and we would be somewhere in the vicinity of Tenerife. Oh well, I suppose you can’t win them all.

  18. Dr JM Mackintosh

    I think the problem must just be our perception of nationhood.

    It turns out you are not really Scottish after all but Middle-ish.
    And I must really be a Pict from the North.

    It all started to go wrong after these Scots came over from Ireland – bloody immigrants. If only we had UKIP back then it could have turned out so differently.

  19. Free Scotland

    Are they planning to hold hands across the piece of land where Hadrian’s Wall is no longer visible, because it is now a very busy motorway?

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