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When prime minister David Cameron urged people around the UK to join the effort to persuade Scots to vote against independence, Corby coffee shop attendant Hazel Lappin phoned her relatives north of the border.
Like many Corby residentsy, Ms Lappin has a personal stake in whether Scotland will choose, in a referendum on September 18, to end its 307-year-old union with England. The former steel town, 80 miles north of London, is the UK’s most concentrated enclave of expatriate Scots and their descendants.
The battle over Britain’s constitutional future entered a new phase on Friday:the start of the official campaign period, with strict spending limits imposed on both sides.
“Today is another landmark in the referendum campaign as the financial rules come into effect,” said Blair McDougall, director of the pro-union Better Together campaign.
While polls suggest a clear lead for remaining in the UK, both sides agree that nothing can be taken for granted. Campaigning has intensified across Scotland with activists labouring to win over the roughly 15 per cent of undecided voters.
Ms Lappin’s telephone call to her Scottish relatives did not go well. “They told me to mind my own business,” says the Corby resident, whose wristwatch features a Union Jack on its face. “What do we know. We’re English as far as they’re concerned,” she says.
The rebuff highlights the complex feelings of the many Scots who live outside Scotland and can only watch as the country decides the future shape of the UK.
The referendum franchise is limited to voters resident in Scotland, whatever their ethnic or national background. That leaves an estimated 830,000 Scots in England – and many other expatriates around the world – with no direct say.
The discomfort is particularly acute in Corby, which attracted waves of economic migrants from Scotland as its steel works grew in the 1930s and 1950s. Scots and their immediate descendants accounted for two-thirds of Corby residents in the 1960s.
Even with a near doubling of the population since, locals say about a third of the town’s 61,000 residents are first, second or third generation “Scots”.
“A lot of people feel alienated because they just haven’t got a say,” says Lee Glover, a former Nottingham Forest footballer who played for the Scotland under-21 team but has no vote in the referendum because he lives in England.
Mr Glover says some elderly Corby Scots fear they might need passports to travel “home”, as they still describe it.
Pro-independence campaigners say such concerns stem from pro-union scaremongering, since it would be in the interests of Scotland and the remaining UK to retain border-free travel in the same way the UK does with Ireland.
And if both an independent Scotland and the remaining UK stayed in the EU, citizens would have the right to live and work in either country.
But some in Corby feel their experience of migration shows the benefit of being part of a bigger state and fret that friends and relatives will suffer if independence proves economically damaging as some unionists warn.
“Obviously, I’m Scottish but I’m also a Brit,” says Henry Lee, 72, a retired steelworker who performs the poems of Robert Burns in full period costume. “People who stayed in Scotland are shut off. I have no time for this independence idea.”
But independence does appeal to some in Corby.
“It’s a bit late now but I’d still be tempted to go back,” says Cameron Bain, originally from Wick in north Scotland, out playing a game of lawn bowls in drizzling rain.
“I’m not really acquainted with it all. But I’m talking to my brother back in Scotland and I think he’s definitely drifting to a Yes,” says the pensioner, whose own bowl proudly sports a little Scottish Saltire flag.
Others worry that independence could mean Corby Scots will come to be seen as just another community of immigrants in England.
Scotland’s stamp is still clear across the town: newsagents sell the Daily Record – Scottish sister paper to the Daily Mirror – and several butchers offer haggis. Corby consumes more Irn Bru, a Scottish fizzy drink, than anywhere else outside Scotland, according to Asda, the supermarket chain.
But even without independence, the Scottish influence on the town does seem to be fading.
Asda used to have an entire aisle of Scottish food, for example. These days the tinned haggis and Tunnocks’ tea cakes share display space with Indian, Mexican and Polish products in the “World Food” section.
Separately, on Friday, Sir Ian Cheshire, chief executive of DIY retailer Kingfisher, warned that independence would “put a pause” on the group’s investment in its B&Q and Screwfix chains in Scotland.
“It would be more complicated, probably more costly and less likely to attract investment, given we could invest in 11 other countries around the world,” Press Association Scotland quoted Sir Ian as saying. “As a business, through our lens, it is clearly better to be part of the UK.”
Scots turned an English village into a steel town
Corby is a Scottish town transplanted to the heart of England, says Des Barber, manager of Corby Radio, writes John Murray Brown. When the first economic migrants arrived for jobs in the steel works in the 1930s Corby was little more than a village, populated by Northamptonshire pig farmers.
It soon became known as Little Scotland as the waves of migration started.
Stewarts & Lloyds , the steel company which later became part of British Steel, built whole housing estates for the workers – still known as Lloyds houses.
The 1961 census shows that a third of Corby’s population was born in Scotland. The number is split fairly evenly between men and women, a reminder that extended families made the migration.
“My father was one of 40 family members,” says Gerald McNamee, a local barman.
New arrivals continued into the 1970s, with the 1971 census showing 15,285 Scotland born residents. However, after the steel works closed in 1980 the numbers fell steadily.
The latest census, in 2011, put the number at 7,765 Scots born residents – 12.7 per cent of the town’s population – although that does not include the second and third generation, who consider themselves Scottish.
“My Dad was born in Corby but you’d think he came from Glasgow,” says Billy Dalziel, the council heritage officer, whose own accent is a mild Northamptonshire burr.
The migrants had “all the things you need to bring up a family,” says Mary Butcher, a local councillor.
”In Greenock, back in Scotland, my father had lived in a tenement with a shared toilet on the landing, and a bath in the middle of the floor.”
Today, the Scottish influence is less obvious, with the population swelled by more recent arrivals from eastern Europe.
“But the Proclaimers [a Scottish band] are still played loudly at wedding parties in Corby,” says Andy Sawford, Labour MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire.
And go into a pub and you are likely to hear someone order a “low flyer” – the term for a whisky, apparently after the “Famous Grouse”, a low flying Scottish game bird and well known whisky brand.
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