Phil Johnson: Berwick’s voice must be heard

Berwick needs to be heard when discussions take place about the governence of England.
Berwick needs to be heard when discussions take place about the governence of England.

International media outlets descended on Berwick in droves in the countdown to the Scottish independence referendum. They have gone now, but the town still needs to be heard.

Journalists from around Europe and beyond saw Berwick, its unique history and long association with both sides of the border, as a fascinating and quirky story to tell in the run up to Thursday’s referendum.

Phil Johnson

Phil Johnson

Indeed, there was more interest in Berwick’s fate from European journalists and camera crews than there was from British counterparts.

The outcome will have profound implications for the way we are all governed right across the UK, the debate having quickly moved on to the future governance of England.

Complacent and disengaged in the Scottish debate for so long, politicians, business leaders and the media in London and southern England were slow to appreciate the importance of the referendum for the UK as a whole.

They only woke up a couple of weeks beforehand when one opinion poll suggested that the Yes campaign had taken the lead.

But things were always going to change, whatever the result. With Scotland now promised more powers under devolution, attention is turning to England too. Rightly so.

That means England’s most northerly town needs to be heard now more than ever before.

Berwick is a special case in many ways. The people here have known for a long time that the outcome of the referendum would have enormous consequences for north Northumberland.

There were real fears that either result could be bad for Berwick. A Yes vote, would have created an international border on our doorstep and all the uncertainties that come with it. The differences that already exist across the border would have grown if Scotland had voted to go it alone.

But the same is true of a ‘No’ vote, especially given the pledge made by the three main parties to devolve more power to the Scottish Parliament.

There are fears that Berwick is in danger of being cut adrift.

International reporters have been asking in recent weeks if there is a feeling of resentment in Berwick.

Most would agree that those who live on the Scottish side of the border have done well out of devolution.

But if there is a feeling of resentment, it is not directed towards Scotland. It is directed towards the south.

For too long, Berwick has had a raw deal as part of Northumberland and the north east. After 40 years of trying, the A1, our economic link between Edinburgh and Newcastle, remains a single carriageway.

In recent years, we have lost our own borough council. We nearly lost our maternity unit and our ambulance.

Average wages are lower than nearly all other towns in England.

Now our students in the rural north of the county are having to find hundreds of pounds to pay for transport to college.

The Scottish referendum has been a catalyst for change throughout the UK. But will Berwick benefit?

Optimists hope so. Sceptics fear that it will make little difference.

Decentralisation might be looked on favourably in the north east as a whole. But an assembly based in Newcastle might not be much better for Berwick than what we have at the moment.

That is why, going forward, Berwick cannot be ignored.

Berwick needs to be protected and needs a voice.

Berwick must be heard.