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Burns Night in Coldstream

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Chris Mason Chris Mason | 20:46 UK time, Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Scottish poet Robbie Burns (1759 - 1796) in his cottage composing 'The Cotter's Saturday Night'. Robert Burns was born in Alloway, Ayrshire, the son of a farmer. In 1786 he published 'Poems, chiefly in the Scottish dialect' with a view to raising funds to emigrate to the West Indies. The success of the volume induced him to stay. He married Jean Armour, the mother of his children in 1788. Burns farmed at Ellisland until 1791 and also worked for the Excise Service to supplement his income. Most of his later literary work consisted of songs and he wrote many of his most famous works for 'A Collection of Original Scottish Airs' which included 'Auld Lang Syne', 'A Red, Red Rose' and 'Scots Wha Hae'. Burns died on July 21st 1796. His life and work are celebrated on Burns Night, 25th January. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images),

So we made it to Scotland in time for the big night. Only here in Coldstream, about a mile over the border, it turns out the big celebrations to mark the birthday of Scotland's national poet, Rabbie Burns, aren't happening until the weekend.

Apparently raising a glass or two to Scotland's most famous son is far too serious a business to be conducted on a weeknight.

But that didn't stop Davie Clark joining us to recite a few verses of 'Tam o'Shanter' live on Drive.

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People here in the Borders have a particular outlook on the question of Scottish independence. If independence was to mean anything, logically it would mean the border, just yards down the road, would become more important. And yet it's a bridge over the River Tweed like any other bridge.

Welcome to Coldstream roadsign.


On our way here we stopped in Cornhill on Tweed, the last village in England, on the A697. We went for a sandwich in the Cornhill Village Shop and got chatting to Julie Jones. The long established differences between England and Scotland, she tells us, have cranked up noticeably since devolution.

"The differences in education, doctors, money, the everyday kind of things, there are huge differences. A lot of people come in here and ask for 'English money,' because they are going down south. To me that's an insult."

Julie adds that prescriptions are a huge talking point. Free in Scotland, not free in England. Free on that side of the river, they come with a bill on this side.

Julie is a Scot, living in England, and concludes the differences are great enough as they are, thank you very much, and isn't interested in Scottish independence. Others disagree.

An hour later, over the border and in the bar of the Castle Hotel in Coldstream, Wilf, Jock and Jim are having a few beers. They reach different conclusions on whether independence for Scotland would be a good thing. But amidst the flurry of questions about what it could mean, they all agree it boils down to a simple judgement for every Scot. "It's a selfish question about the money in your pocket," Jim tells us. There are nods.

It's been obvious to us in the last few days that nationalistic pride can flourish within the union, in Corby, or, in Guernsey's case, without outright independence. Some conclude that's enough for them, others want a constitutional change.

But in our entirely unscientific snapshot in the Borders, it seems the independence question is a hard headed economic one for many. Some have long since made up their minds. Others are willing to listen to the arguments, and for many, it's all about the economy, stupid.

Chris Mason is 5 live's Political Reporter. You can follow him on Twitter - @ChrisMasonBBC.

Chris is travelling with 5 live producer Chris Brindley.


  • Comment number 1.

    What comes into your mind when you were at the border?

  • Comment number 2.

    I will be honest dog sports Jersey. We crossed the border and drove into Coldstream. And then it came into our minds that we'd forgotten to take a picture of Julie Jones in Cornhill on Tweed and a picture of the striking Coldstream sign. So we turned around and crossed the border again, took our pictures, and then returned to Coldstream. Bet you wish you never asked, eh?!?


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