UK links too important to give up

Colin Strang Steel at home in Threepwood.
Colin Strang Steel at home in Threepwood.

Apart from a brief spell at the start of my career when I worked as a surveyor in Cumbria, I have spent all of my childhood and working life in Scotland, mostly in the Borders.

My family roots north of the border go back many generations and I regard myself as Scottish through and through – of which I am justifiably proud – but equally I also regard myself as being British. To me, being British encompasses the best of all worlds and it is something which I would resist giving up at all costs.

After more than 300 years of being a United Kingdom and all the benefits which have flowed in both directions from this union, it would be tragic , in my view, if this was to be cast aside for the sake of political expediency and a romantic notion that Scotland would be better off without the Union.

When the referendum debate began, I listened with an open mind to both sides of the argument. But as the discussion has extended, including the recent televised debate, and the need for hard facts on which to base a decision has intensified, my view has hardened very strongly against independence.

I have yet to hear an argument, reinforced by authenticated facts and figures, which convinces me that Scotland would be better off as a separate nation in any way. Indeed, as the referendum date draws ever nearer, the propaganda for independence seems to be even less convincing and sustainable than at the outset.

I have farmed in the Borders for almost 20 years and this has made me realise the importance of being part of a large group in order to survive. I cannot see how farming could survive in an independent Scotland as we need the wider markets which the United Kingdom – and indeed the EU, for all its imperfections – bring us.

If the playing field was level and all subsidies abolished throughout the EU, it would be a different matter.

However, as no unqualified answer has been given to Scotland’s future in the EU, the uncertainty over future membership could pose an enormous threat to farmers if single-farm payments were put at risk for as long as Scotland was outwith the EU.

The countryside also owes a great deal to the environmental grants which have been available for the past 15 years or so. These have enabled farmers to carry out all manner of environmental improvements to their farms which have benefitted wildlife in general to an enormous degree. If these grants were put at risk through Scotland being outside the EU, this could spell disaster for the Borders countryside and wildlife.

It would appear that Borderers are even less enthusiastic about independence than the rest of Scotland, which is understandable in view of our close and historical links to the north of England.

Even though we used to knock hell out of each other back in the days of the Reivers, it would not be too far-fetched to imagine a scene in the future, were independence to be gained, where the Borders might wish to break away from Scotland and affiliate itself with its neighbour to the south.

The cultural, economic, historic and social links which have bound us into the United Kingdom are far too important and precious to give up for the sake of an unknown future as a small fish in a very big pond.

While those who wish to retain the status quo may be regarded by the pro-independents as overcautious and unambitious, we have to question whether the gamble of giving up all that we as a nation have achieved together is worth the risk.

I will always remain fiercely loyal and patriotic towards Scotland, but, overall, I believe that our and our children’s futures in Scotland will be more comfortable, contented and prosperous in a United Kingdom rather than an independent Scotland.