I wouldn’t normally take my wife and children to Dumfries and Galloway for the weekend, given the distance and the expense, but the organisers of the Wigtown Literary Festival offered to pay all our rail fares and put us up for the weekend. Wigtown was designated Scotland’s national book town by the Scottish Parliament in 1999 in an effort to breathe new life into it. At the time, it had one of the highest unemployment levels in Scotland following the closure of its two main employers, the creamery and the distillery. The literary festival has taken place ever since.
Almost the moment we crossed the border, a drunk buttonholed my wife. ‘You’re boo-ti-full,’ he said, as we sat on the train from Carlisle to Dumfries. Then, taking in our four children, he said, ‘Did all’a that lot come out’a youse?’ He seemed genuinely amazed, possibly because Caroline is about half the size of the average Scotswoman.
Dumfries station was a revelation. It was immaculate, far superior to all the stations leading up to it south of the border. Is this a reflection of the tens of billions that Labour poured into Scotland during its 13 years in office? According to the latest opinion polls, less than a third of Scots want to leave the union — hardly surprising given how much worse off they’d be without the English subsidy. The SNP claims that Scotland’s fair share of North Sea oil revenues would easily compensate for this, but I don’t imagine Alex Salmond will call a referendum any time soon.
By rights, the Wigtown Literary Festival should be a disaster. Not only is Wigtown extremely difficult to get to — it took us seven hours, the last 90 minutes in a minibus — but it’s in one of the least populous parts of the UK.