Alex Massie

Berwick Irridenta!

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Salmond says it's game on!

ALEX Salmond would start legal moves to bring Berwick back under Scottish control if the town's residents voted to leave England in a referendum, it emerged yesterday.

A spokesman for the First Minister said borders were "fluid" and there were precedents from around the world of towns changing hands from one government to another.

He was responding to the results of a new poll of residents in Berwick-upon-Tweed which found a clear majority in favour of becoming part of Scotland...

A spokesman for Mr Salmond said: "If there was an official referendum, there is no administration, no matter what party is in charge, who would not take Berwick back. It would be foolhardy for Westminster to ignore the wishes of the people. If there was a vote in favour, we would respect that self-determination and make the necessary representation to Westminster.

"Borders are fluid and there would have to be negotiations, but  there are precedents for this happening from around the world."

Writing in a Sunday newspaper, the First Minister said it was clear that there was "significant support" for Berwick to become Scottish, but he said it was wrong to see the debate solely in terms of public services and money.

Mr Salmond said: "We prefer to look on the views of the people of Berwick as an indication they prefer the policy programme of Edinburgh to the diktat of faraway London."

And he added: "We have no territorial ambitions for any part of England. But if it were to be agreed by Westminster that the views of the people of Berwick should be respected, I am sure any government in Edinburgh would be happy to welcome them home."

As y'all know, Berwick changed hands no fewer than 13 times before being annexed - unhappily - by England in, er, 1482.

Sadly, Wikipedia suggests that the most entertaining thing about Berwick - namely it's century long war with Russia - is, well, not true:

There is a curious apocryphal story that Berwick is (or recently was) technically at war with Russia. The story tells that since Berwick had changed hands several times, it was traditionally regarded as a special, separate entity, and some proclamations referred to "England, Scotland and the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed". One such was the declaration of the Crimean War against Russia in 1853, which Queen Victoria supposedly signed as "Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, Ireland, Berwick-upon-Tweed and all British Dominions". However, when the Treaty of Paris (1856) was signed to conclude the war, "Berwick-upon-Tweed" was left out. This meant that, supposedly, one of Britain's smallest towns was officially at war with one of the world's mightiest powers – and the conflict extended by the lack of a peace treaty for over a century.

The BBC programme Nationwide investigated this story in the 1970s, and found that while Berwick was not mentioned in the Treaty of Paris, it was not mentioned in the declaration of war either. The question remained of whether Berwick had ever been at war with Russia in the first place. The true situation is that since the Wales and Berwick Act 1746 had already made it clear that all references to England included Berwick, the town had no special status at either the start or end of the war.

Nevertheless, in 1966 a Soviet official waited upon the Mayor of Berwick, Councillor Robert Knox, and a peace treaty was formally signed. Mr Knox is reputed to have said "Please tell the Russian people that they can sleep peacefully in their beds." To complicate the issue, some have noted that Knox did not have any authority with regard to foreign relations, and thus may have exceeded his powers as mayor in concluding a peace treaty. The whole curious scenario was the focus of a question on the third series of the gameshow QI.

what's needed, however, is a multi-option referendum. Berwickers should be given the choice of a third way: independence. Just think, the town could become the Monaco of the North Sea...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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