Focus on the local issues

I take issue with the letter from Jean Watts that Britain was not alone in 1940, (Berwick Advertiser, February 18).

Friday, 4th March 2016, 12:00 pm
Updated Saturday, 5th March 2016, 09:15 am

Volume II of Churchill’s six volume History of the Second World War deals solely with 1940 and is divided into two books – The Fall of France and Alone. With a typical Churchillian flourish he gave the volume a preliminary theme: How the British people held the fort alone till those who hitherto had been half blind were half ready.

Mrs Watts seems to confuse the later events of the war with Britain’s position in June 1940. The whole world looked on our position after the fall of France and concurred with Marshal Pétain’s sarcastic comment that ‘In three weeks Britain will have its neck wrung like a chicken.”

France had fallen in little over a month, Britain was next and the noble and glorious contributions of exiled Polish and Frenchmen were scarcely yet organised or numerous enough to be decisive against the impending German war machine. Similarly our imperial forces were on their way on a long sea voyage that meant the battle would be over before they could reach British shores.

However, if our MP has been likening the Brexit campaign to these tumultuous times in our history, then she is equally misguided.

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I would like our MP to stop playing backing vocals from the parliamentary songbook of Great British cliché and begin to outline to her constituents how, in real terms, we are to be advantaged locally by her position.

I find it astonishing that she would be so vocal on Brexit and so silent on an identical local issue affecting her constituents – North East devolution.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not, but we are currently entering the final stages of an agreement between George Osborne and the North East Combined Authority (NECA) to devolve powers to an elected Mayor and the said combined authority.

NECA will, with Manchester, take a seat at the table of the great Northern Powerhouse. Northumberland County Council, Sunderland, Durham, Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside and South Tyneside local authorities have already combined – what you might call a ‘Labour’ of authorities.

I have no issue with the great industrial and post industrial North East seeking to unite and exert its powers collectively. The issue is that the historic development of this political and economic culture is as far removed from Berwick as it is possible to be. Berwick will undoubtedly stand outside on the porch of the Northern Powerhouse, holding a soggy parcel called ‘rural affairs’.

Furthermore, what NECA is claiming as consultation, having checked its website, amounts to a few presentations last year to about 500 people. That’s 500 people in the whole of the NECA area.

Durham and Newcastle are stirring about the lack of a referendum. Why has our MP not demanded greater consultation with her constituents? Why has this enormous move been so under-reported?

Mrs Trevelyan and NECA would do well to remember that there is one town in this land whose political and legal history reads like a Phd thesis on ‘standing alone’. That town is Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Let us put to bed the endless red-herring of whether Berwick is English or Scottish, when obviously it is both and neither. It is time that we subordinate this national question to the pressing local questions that need to be resolved.

Among the relevant questions are, should not Berwick seek to have some representation in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, as well as Westminister? Should not Berwick naturally be the county town of Berwickshire?

Berwick has been a Scots town controlled by the English, a county corporate and all manner of esoteric legal constructs. Indeed our forbearers neatly avoided the national question with an acumen and pragmatism that frankly puts our modern legislators to shame.

Our MP and NECA are both so passionate about devolving from Brussels and Westminster respectively in order to bolster more localised jurisdiction and sovereignty. They should not then be surprised when Berwick starts to campaign for ‘Berwickxit’ from both the united federal North East, and a constituency boundary which is increasingly unworthy of our historic name and claim.

Churchill described Russia as ‘a riddle within a mystery, wrapped up in an enigma’. I say to you all that Berwick is an anomaly within a cock-up, wrapped up in a grievance.

Berwick’s status is more than a Trivial Pursuit question. It is a serious question; one of evolving, peculiar and often poorly considered legal and administrative arrangements. These arrangements’ needs must be made sound. And soon.

Andrew Marshall

Berwick-upon-Tweed