Brandy's Blog - A Northern View of Westminster

Indyref vs the North East: An English intervention in a Scottish question

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

The North East might not have a vote in the Scottish referendum, but it has a view. And with the region butting right up against the border, MPs decided this morning that it was time to make that view clear.

This was an alliance of politicians rarely seen in the region - Lib Dems, Labour, Tories, all arguing against independence. At one point, even bitter rivals James Wharton and Tom Blenkinsop put aside their Teeside rivalries and rallied together in defence of the union.

Their arguments centre around two points: travel and trade.

On travel, the Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson summed it up like this: "If you believe in a strong Scotland, if you want to see a prosperous North East, why do you want to put barriers between the two?" The argument here is that if Scotland leaves the UK, it'd have to have an international border with England, restricting the movement of commuters and tourists. Sir Alan Beith even warned his border town of Berwick that "unless you see your future entirely as a town of exchange kiosks and smugglers, we are much better off together".

On trade, the argument is more complex. Partly, it's about the complicated currency arguments: will Scotland keep the pound or will companies have to exchange money to do business? But for the North East, it's also about taxes. An independent Scotland could slash corporation tax, for example, making it less competitive to do business in Newcastle than Edinburgh. Would that lead business to head north? On this, James Wharton warned, "We already see the Scottish Enterprise Agency able to give an extra push to companies in terms of where they bring their business when competing with the North East."

The Scottish Nationalist MP Angus MacNeil was there to refute both arguments with characteristic flair. In his thick Highlands & Islands tones, he quipped "The truth is we will not be erecting any barriers...we can continue to flow and interact with each other freely." He pointed to countries like Switzerland where there is free travel across the border, argued that Scotland would keep the pound, and brazenly added, "I look forward to the day when I'll be witnessing people in the North East finding the chance of employment in Scotland rather than having to go further afield to the south east of England."

After 90 minutes, the debate was over. A rare English intervention in a Scottish question. The argument will now retreat back across the border, with just six months until Scotland decides.