29th August

Crossing the Border (2)

The number of young Englishmen crossing the border to avoid conscription has hit a new high, according to statistics just released by the Scottish Government.

Since the start of July, eight thousand men of draft age are believed to have arrived, bringing the total number, during the present overseas hostilities, to more than fifty thousand. A government spokeswoman stressed that the true figure is likely to be higher, as only those who register for ‘temporary refugee’ or ‘political asylum’ status are counted.

Many of those who come north rather than be called up for National Service are accommodated in specially constructed camps at Langholm, Newcastleton, Kelso and Duns, the so-called ‘Little Englands’. Although there have been occasional clashes with local youths, the Minister for Home and Housing, Ewart Fleming, was keen to emphasise that generally the English draft dodgers have received a warm welcome. On a visit to Little England, Langholm, during which he observed aspects of the educational and entertainment programmes which the camp inmates themselves organise with support from outreach workers, he said: ‘We have no quarrel with these young men, who have voted with their feet against their government’s policies. It is undeniable that their presence here does put a strain on some of our resources, but we will not turn anyone away.’

Questioned on what level of co-operation existed with England over cross-border security, Mr Fleming said, ‘Security systems intended to prevent these men entering Scotland are entirely ineffectual, as we always said they would be owing to the porous nature of the border, so we can only anticipate that unless or until the English Government changes its foreign policy the number of arrivals will go on rising.’

Despite his barely concealed irritation, Mr Fleming did not repeat the Scottish Chancellor’s scathing reference to ‘Airstrip One’, which resulted in the English Prime Minister cancelling his recent planned trip to Edinburgh. But when asked if he thought the ‘special relationship’ between the two countries had been irretrievably damaged, he replied: ‘Time will tell. One must ask: which two countries, what relationship, and why is it special?’

A spokesman for the English Government said, ‘We told you independence would lead to conflict.’

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Subscribe here for more stories & music