Census call for Borderers to draw picture of region’s uniqueness

Brian Moffat, Teviothead
Brian Moffat, Teviothead
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A CALL has gone out to encourage people in the Borders to state their nationality as Anglo-Scottish Borderer in the 2011 Census.

This Sunday – March 27 – is the date when 25 million households across the UK will be asked to supply information for the new census.

The plea to Borderers from local historian and Teviothead-based author, Brian Moffatt, follows a similar campaign by Cornwall’s local authority which is urging its citizens to enter the term ‘Cornish’ in the survey of the lives of people in the UK.

Cornwall Council has even produced posters for residents to put up in the windows of their homes and shops, calling on people to proclaim their Cornish ethnicity by putting the south-coast county as their place of birth or their nationality.

Cornish is not a tick-box option on the official census form but it or ‘Anglo-Scottish Borderer’ could be entered under the ‘other’ option.

It is a loophole similar to the one exploited by fans of the movie, Star Wars, who put down ‘Jedi’ as their religion in the 2001 census.

Mr Moffatt says his call is a plea for the Borders’ unique regional identity not to be lost.

“If on the day of the census, large numbers of Southern Reporter readers were to put their ethnic origin down as not British or Scottish but Anglo-Scottish Borderer, we would create a new and much-needed ethnic group in Britain,” he said this week.

“Borderers form a distinct ethnic group, somewhat different from the rest of Britain. But the rural Borders now has a lower population density than at any time in recorded history, indeed perhaps for a great period of unwritten history. And even fewer indigenous Borderers.”

Mr Moffatt claims due to the low population density of this region, the ethnic identity of the Borderer has, over the centuries, become diluted and, within Britain, this ethnic group is barely recognised as being of any significance.

“There is not even a space on the census form for the Borderer,” he told TheSouthern.

He added: “Merely by filling in this section of the census form we would at the very least achieve within Britain itself, some small form of identity, upon which to begin build the picture of this area’s uniqueness.

“It is one way of advertising ourselves. It is free. It can do no harm to be recognised. It would cost our government and economy nothing.

“It is simply a way of saying ‘I am a Borderer’. And it’s a long way to the next census.”

Asked for his opinion, fellow Borders author and historian – as well as television presenter – Alistair Moffat said the subject of identity had been much on his mind recently.

“Last month I published a book called The Scots: A Genetic Journey and it deals with the kaleidoscope of shifting identities in Scotland,” he explained.

“I am doing a talk on it on Thursday night (tonight) at Mainstreet Trading at St Boswells. The research threw up some startling revelations and one of these touches directly on what Brian Moffatt is advocating.

“My own DNA turned out to be that of an Angle, as in Anglo-Saxon, hailing from southern Denmark and northern Germany some time around 500AD.

“My ancestors carved out the kingdom of Northumbria and it included the Borders for many centuries. So that makes me precisely an Anglo-Scottish Borderer – exactly the sort of person Brian is trying to protect.

“However identities change over time and when it comes to Census Day on March 27, I shall be ticking the Scottish box. My Anglian identity has faded and although I am Borders in my blood and bone – my people having been here for more than a thousand years – I also think of myself as a Scot and as British.

“These senses of my past overlap and I am proud of them, but they are not mutually exclusive.”

However, while Scottish Borders Council does not have an official view on Mr Moffatt’s call, support came from Councillor Nicholas Watson, leader of the Borders Party on the local authority.

“We have lots in common with northern England and not just historically, there’s much more we could do together now, with tourism for instance. We need to look south as well as north and Brian’s idea would encourage that, and help us appreciate our heritage too,” he said.