WATCH: Paul Wheelhouse interview

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South Scotland MSP and Minister for the Environment Paul Wheelhouse has outlined how the referendum campaigns have galvanised politics.

He described the unique position of Berwickshire and the Borders, but hoped that a ‘yes’ vote would mean stronger ties with the rest of Scotland while preserving those with England.

SNP Paul Wheelhouse

SNP Paul Wheelhouse

“Compared to other areas in Scotland there are obviously more concerns about cross-border issues,” he said, describing the campaign in Berwickshire.

“There are issues about cross-border working, the tax situation, healthcare, where we were hopefully able to ensure that the current relationship between the two health services will continue.

“Agriculture is a key issues as well.

“In particular we believe that Scottish farmers will benefit,especially after the particularly poor negotiated settlement we’ve had under [the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which has left us at the bottom of the league tables for rural development funding.”

Mr Wheelhouse believes that the issues most concerning Berwickshire residents, with their traditional economic and social ties with the north of England, have been overshadowed by debates over symbols like Trident and whether or not to keep the pound.

“There’s no doubt that because the vast majority of people in Scotland are not affected by cross-border issues, even though we have a good story to tell in terms of those relations, things like Trident and poverty in Scotland, the continuation of tuition fees are the policies that people tend to focus on.”

He went on to compare the Borders to another rural region.

“In areas like the Highlands and Islands, even more rural than the Borders, there is a different culture,” he said.

“People are more willing to embrace change, ironically. In the highlands communities scare stories about border checkpoints and so on doesn’t affect them.

“Even on rural development funding, which the Highlands and Islands rely on like we do in the Borders, we’re confident we could have done better.”

Some of the additional powers promised to the Islands, he said, could benefit coastal communities in Berwickshire as “Crown Estate Commission money that relates to the offshore licensing and revenue can accrue to the local communities.”

Like many observers Mr Wheelhouse feels the southern media was slow in its referendum coverage.

“I don’t know whether it is naivety or arrogance,” he said, “but the establishment in Westminster has largely been very dismissive of independence, thinking that there was no real popular support for it.

“But we’ve seen that when we’ve been out on the doorsteps, you feel it much quicker, sometimes than opinion polls can show it.

“We’re feeling it now, and we’re seeing people come directly from a ‘no’ vote to a ‘yes’ position directly, without the indecision.

“Whitehall has had two years. They’ve no excuse for leaving it so late.”