Pool’s proud Scots happy to be together

Decision time: John Grierson and Liz Grierson from the Fairhaven on Woodfield Road
Decision time: John Grierson and Liz Grierson from the Fairhaven on Woodfield Road

Blackpool and north of the border are intertwined...but what of the independence vote?

The long-standing links between Blackpool and Scotland, and the large number of Scots living here, mean there is significant interest in the resort in the outcome of this week’s historic independence referendum. Today, Rob Devey takes a look at the views of local Scots, including business people, politicians and residents

Over the last week, the prospects of a vote in favour of Scottish independence appear to have grown.

Polls showed the ‘Yes’ campaign closing the gap on ‘Better Together’, which has the backing of all the Coalition Government and Labour.

Then, for the first time, Yes opened up a narrow lead – although that was quickly overturned as the three party leaders headed up north in a bid to reverse the momentum.

But while Scotland has been divided by the issue, with entire families at loggerheads, Scots living on the Fylde coast appear united.

They want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom and many feel aggrieved that they do not get a vote.

Mick Johnston, 56, chairs the local Glasgow Rangers supporters club, Blackpool True Blues, and works in the tools stores at BAE Systems in Warton.

The dad-of-two moved to the area from Glasgow 40 years ago with his family – and he believes virtually all Scots in Blackpool are opposed to independence.

“There are more of us than I can count but I can’t think of anyone who would vote yes, and I think the same goes for my aunties and uncles in Scotland,” says Mick, of Colwyn Avenue, Marton. “It’s ridiculous that we won’t be able to vote. I think we will always be better together. We are the UK and I think, for all its faults, the Parliament at Westminster does the same job as an independent Parliament in Edinburgh.

“Independence would just cause division, and when you see division elsewhere in the world it seems crazy to want to separate.”

Lynne Gorrie, 59, who moved to Blackpool from Fife 36 years ago to find work as a chef, agrees.

“We are an island and we should stick together,” says Lynne, from Eccleston Road. “It’s all very well people in Scotland saying ‘we’ve got the whisky, the gas and the oil’ but all that money goes to the companies, we never saw it.

“I’ve got friends and a couple of cousins still in Scotland and there is a mixture of views but I try not to get too involved in politics because we end up rowing!”

Scottish hoteliers in Blackpool have concerns about independence, with one saying he feared it could affect business.

Andrew Paterson, 44, who runs the Rock-Dene Hotel on St Chad’s Road with his wife Bernadette, said he believed a yes vote could lead to fewer people from Scotland holidaying south of the border.

“It would mean there being a passport control on the border and some older people who do not normally travel abroad are not going to pay £80 or £90 for a passport,” says Andrew, who moved to Blackpool from Livingston seven years ago.

“I am against because of the passport issue and because Scotland won’t be able to keep the pound. Speaking to guests from Scotland I would say 80 per cent are against independence, and the 20 per cent in favour are mainly younger people under the age of 30.

“My wife’s dad is still in Scotland and he’s 79 – the older generation have this saying that if something isn’t broken, you shouldn’t try and fix it.”

Kate Hulme, who owns the Fairview Hotel, on Woodfield Road, and left Edinburgh more than 40 years ago, says: “I think independence is an absolutely awful idea and I think Alex Salmond is on a hiding to nothing – he’s trying to drive this through for himself.

“I get quite a few guests from Scotland and I’ve still got family there, but I’ve not met anyone in favour of it – they either don’t know or are against. We had a nine-person golfing party here from Scotland last weekend and not one of them supported independence.

“I honestly can’t see the financial benefits for going it alone.

“If Scotland becomes independent, what next – Wales? What about the UK? I’m getting a bit worried by the polls. The three party leaders went to Scotland the other day but it’s a bit late. They should have done so long ago, but maybe they got complacent.”

Liz Grierson, who runs the Fairhaven Private Hotel, also on Woodfield Road, with her husband John, said she didn’t believe Scotland was well placed to stand alone in the event of independence.

“The oil and gas won’t last forever,” says Liz, who moved here from Perth 15 years ago and says she is a proud Scot.

“I had someone in from Aberdeen who was saying how the oil companies had nearly halved their staff. A yes vote would be a very big risk. My attitude is that if something is working well you should leave it be.”

A well known Scot in Blackpool is Hamish Howitt, 62, who runs Crazy Scots Bar on Rigby Road.

He left Scotland in 1967 and moved to Blackpool 18 years ago after spending 22 years travelling and six years living in London.

Hamish is against independence, but has a radical idea of what should happen in the event of the UK breaking up.

“Personally, for me, the only advantage of independence would be to end control by a Tory government in Westminster,” says the dad of 10.

“But then I think that would apply to most people north of the Midlands – it’s a different world in London and the Home Counties which seem to get the lion’s share of everything.

“Scotland has got far more in common with Lancashire, Yorkshire and the north-east so if you were to break up the UK I think you would draw the border further south.”

Like Liz, Hamish says he is “passionate about Scotland”.

But he adds: “I’m also passionate about the UK and I think most Scots in England don’t want Scotland to leave the UK.

“I’ve not met anyone among my Scottish pals who does – if you do not like a country and its people you should not live in it.”

Given their political allegiances, it is perhaps unsurprising that Scottish councillors on Blackpool Council oppose independence.

But their views seem based upon personal conviction rather than political convenience.

Marton ward councillor Jim Elmes, who moved to England from Paisley almost 40 years ago, says: “Independence is a crazy idea.

“It would mean people like me having to go back and get another passport.

“But more than anything the economics of it just don’t stack up.

“Presumably Scotland would end up joining the euro if they weren’t allowed to keep the pound but there’s no guarantee they would be able to join the European Union and if they weren’t in the EU I think that would be a bad thing.

“They’ve said an independent Scotland would not have a nuclear deterrent and ship building contracts with the Ministry of Defence would be lost, which could cost thousands of jobs.”

Park ward councillor, Brian Doherty, who moved down from Scotland in 1963, settling in Manchester then Blackpool, agrees that independence would be a “bad move”.

“There’s just too much for both sides to lose,” he says.

“I would be in favour of more devolution, but I just think we are better off together and I’d be here all day if I went into all the reasons. I don’t know anyone on the council or anywhere in Blackpool who is in favour of independence.”

Coun Martin Mitchell, who represents Layton, was born in England but his family moved to Scotland when he was six and he lived there for 16 years.

Coun Mitchell, who still competes for the Scottish chess team, says: “If they really want to do it, then fair enough.

“But I’m proud that Great Britain is so multi-cultural.

“We’ve seen what happened when Czechoslovakia split. People are not sure what it is called now and it doesn’t have status internationally.

“Traditions are nice and Scotland will always be a nation in one sense but will it be able to punch above its weight on the world stage?

“And I’ve been disappointed with the quality of Scottish politicians.

“It’s as though people who should be running a town council or a village hall have been elevated to run the Scottish Government,

“If Scotland goes independent they will be leaders of a nation state.”

Major issues surrounding next week’s ballot

England and Scotland were separate states for centuries before the 1707 Act of Union. England had unsuccessfully attempted to take over Scotland by force in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. The Act, supported by both countries, united England and Scotland, which had shared a monarch since 1603 when King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne.

Even after the 1707 Act of Union, Scotland maintained its own education, law and justice systems, church and sports teams.

A devolved Scottish government was established following a referendum in September 1997, but the Scottish National Party (SNP), led by Alex Salmond, supports full independence. The SNP said it had the authority to hold the referendum after victory in the 2011 Scottish government elections.

Everyone aged 16 or over living in Scotland is entitled to register to take part in a referendum on whether Scotland should break from the UK and become an independent country. People from England and other parts of the UK who now live in Scotland are entitled to vote. But Scots living in England cannot.

The vote is being held on Thursday, September 18, and around four million people will have their say.

A simple majority of more than 50 per cent is needed to win the vote.

A Yes vote would see Scotland become independent in March 2016. In May 2016, the first election for a Scottish Parliament will be held under the current system of regional party lists and first-past-the-post at constituency level.

The new Parliament would be responsible for creating a Constitutional Convention to decide how the country will be governed.

Key issues include an independent Scotland’s future currency, whether it would join the EU, how it would defend itself, the future of North Sea oil and – perhaps most importantly – whether ordinary families would be better off.

McPool? Resort’s historic Scottish links

The Glasgow Fair Fortnight dates back to the 19th century and saw people from the city head for their holidays when factories and shipyards closed at the end of July. Similar holidays, like the Edinburgh Trades and Aberdeen Trades, took place in different areas of Scotland at different times over the summer, but often just for a week.

As a growing holiday resort in northern England, Blackpool was a destination of choice for Scots. The spread of the railway in the 1840s made the town more accessible, especially for people from Glasgow and the west of Scotland, while Whitby and Scarborough emerged as popular destinations for people from east Scotland.

The decline of manufacturing in the 1960s and the standardisation of holidays in England and Wales led to the decline of the tradition, but Scottish councils can still decide when to have their holidays and Bank Holiday Weekends, and many still coincide with the old fair and trades weeks and fortnights.

Blackpool remains a popular destination with Scottish tourists – evident in the Celtic and Rangers football memorabilia sold on some stalls along the Prom. But their visits are now less concentrated during this particular fortnight. Early July is a popular time for Scots to visit as school holidays tend to start earlier than in England.

Some holidaymakers liked Blackpool so much they decided to come and live here – which helps explain the large number of Scots resident in the resort today.