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UK Politics

Scottish independence: Scots of Corby take matters into their own hands in mock referendum - and deliver overwhelming verdict

A vote during the Northamptonshire town's annual Highland Games came out against independence

Their ballots will count for nothing when the real polls close on 18 September, but hundreds of people flocked to offer their votes on Scottish independence on Sunday in the Northamptonshire town of Corby, some 260 miles south of the border.

Amid the skirl of the pipes, and at a suitable distance from the Scottish dancing competition, more than 500 people cast their votes at Corby’s annual Highland Gathering. By a majority of 414 to 162, they voted against independence.

Alex Salmond will be pleased to hear that organisers confirmed the “mock referendum” was “just a bit of fun” and nothing to do with the real Scottish independence vote, for which expats living in England – or anywhere else in the world – are ineligible to vote.

If the rules were different, the citizens of Corby would be better qualified than most. The town has long been known as “Little Scotland”, after unemployed Scots flocked there in the 1930s and again in the 1960s, looking for jobs in the steelworks.


Corby’s Highland Gathering has been running since 1968, and according to the 2011 census, 12.7 per cent of the town’s population of 61,255 are Scottish born.

Those who turned out yesterday made sure to cast their votes in secret to guarantee the sanctity of the ballot box, and appointed Steve Noble, the Highland Gathering’s chieftain (and chairman of Corby Town Football Club), to act as official returning officer.

Mark Pengelly, the borough councillor who organised this year’s gathering and came up with the idea of the mock referendum, claimed it was not as bizarre as it might initially sound. Mr Pengelly, 52, said: “I am English, but a lot of my friends are Scottish and they were saying that they wouldn’t have any say in the referendum in Scotland. So I thought it would be a bit of fun to hold our own version here.”

He added that Corby’s Little Scotland nickname was well deserved.

“People in Corby speak with their own accent, with a definite Scottish twang.  Asda here stocks more Irn-Bru than anywhere else in England.”

Mr Pengelly confirmed, however, that the supermarket no longer has signs in Gaelic, which were widely considered a step too far when they were  introduced – to considerable bemusement – in 2003.

Mr Pengelly said the people of Corby had been spared canvassers and campaign posters.

But making the most of an unusual opportunity, Margaret Curran, Labour’s pro-union shadow Scottish Secretary, was due to visit the Highland Gathering.

She said: “Scots in Corby don’t have a vote, but they do have a view, and it’s right they make it heard.

“Most Scots have friends and family who live in the rest of the UK – it doesn’t feel like a foreign country and they don’t want it to become one. Over the past 300 years we have built bonds of family and friendship that have strengthened the union.”

Straying off-message from his own party’s line, however, Mr Pengelly, a Labour councillor, admitted: “I voted for independence, just because I think that if I were Scottish, I would support independence out of sentimental reasons.  Although I know there are clear economic arguments for Scotland staying in the Union.”

He swiftly added: “But this was just for fun and I didn’t vote as a Labour politician.”