Photographer Colin McPherson walked the Scottish border to meet the people pondering independence - and their view of England

McPherson, a Scot by birth who now lives on Merseyside, walked the length of the Anglo-Scots border on the Scots side from Gretna in the west to the Tweed just above Berwick, a distance of 96 miles, to see what could be seen

Politicians on both sides have been doing their utmost to inject passion into the debate on Scottish independence. And it is true that the issues involved are momentous, the decision a grave one, and whatever the result of September's referendum, it will resonate far into the future.

If the Scots go it alone, it could mean either a Golden Age of prosperity or a painful struggle to maintain existing standards. Hanging over the whole exercise, and beyond the power of politicians on either side to be sure about, is the question of membership of the EU, either separately or together.

So there is nothing either trivial or merely technical about the question of Scottish independence. Yet, as Colin McPherson's photographs bring out, it is quite unlike the struggles for independence in other parts of the world.

McPherson, a Scot by birth who now lives on Merseyside, walked the length of the Anglo-Scots border on the Scots side from Gretna in the west to the Tweed just above Berwick, a distance of 96 miles, to see what could be seen.

For much of the way, the landscape is piercingly beautiful, especially as the border climbs into the Cheviot Hills in the east. It is also very empty. In one photograph, the three-wire border fence stretches out into the empty grassland of the Cheviots. The countryside on both sides of the fence is identical.

Another haunting landscape shows the country where the last battle between the Scots and the English took place, the so-called Redeswire Fray of 1575, little more than a skirmish in which the English were routed after the Scots were bolstered by reinforcements from Jedburgh, up the road. As the final battle in a long series lasting many centuries, not to mention a Scots victory too, it would be no surprise to find commemorative plaques, perhaps a visitor centre, annual re-enactments. But there is nothing there at all – no human traces, no souvenirs of battle, only spreading grassland that looks like an accidental golf course, stands of Forestry Commission pines, and gentle heather-covered slopes beyond under cloud-dappled skies.

 

Only one of the images screams "border", and it's a picture of a cliché: at Carter Bar, a lone piper in a kilt tirelessly welcomes visitors as they come up on the A68 from Newcastle heading for Edinburgh. The other cliché in the series is the Union flag. A woman in Yetholm, on the Scots side, like all the photos in the series, carries a handbag with the flag emblazoned on it. When McPherson asked about its significance, she told him simply, "I love the bag, but it's no indication of my political opinions."

Contrast the fate of these places and these icons of identity with the fury and the bloodshed, right now, of other borderlines: Iraq-Syria, Ukraine-Russia, Pakistan-Afghanistan. Terrible things happened in our green land, too, things we have become good at forgetting – "a nation with so many memorials" as Geoffrey Hill wrote in his poem "The Triumph of Love", "but no memory". At Redeswire, there is not even a trace of a memorial.

Perhaps that is because the passions were stilled a very long time ago. The border McPherson walked was first legally recognised by both sides nearly 800 years ago, with the Treaty of York of 1237. The adjustments since, including some land around Berwick and a tranche of the North Sea, have been little more than footnotes, nothing to shed blood over. The status of the so-called Debatable Lands of the far west, near Gretna, plundered by "border reivers" from both sides, was ambiguous until joint action brought the lawlessness to a brutal end early in the 17th century. Despite the name, which stuck, the Debatable Lands are debated no more.

Since then, peace and forgetting have prevailed. Other countries – Kosovo, South Sudan, Kurdistan – struggle violently to break away from the big brother they loathe. But for Scotland and England, if the ways are truly to part, it will be more like one of those divorces of extremely old couples who, having long since passed through the phases of fury and disgust, have simply lost interest in each other. Thanks to devolution and the re-creation of Scotland's own parliament, more and more matters that have a bearing on Scots life are decided in Scotland by the Scots themselves. Meanwhile, the collective identity represented by the word "Britain" has steadily emptied of meaning and affection, until for many Scots there is nothing left in it that is not irksome and alien. And the Union flag is no more than a striking design.

'Beyond the Border' is at Impressions Gallery, Bradford, until 27 September (document scotland.com, impressions-gallery.com)

Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower