From the time he was a wee lad on his grandpa’s knee, Ian Cowe had pride in his Scottish roots drummed into his bonny little head. Born in Edinburgh, he went to college there, spent part of his career in Scotland and joined the local Scottish cultural society when he was posted to Hong Kong. So he takes great interest in the referendum that could change his homeland, and the rest of Britain, forever. In September, voters in Scotland will decide whether the time has come to split from England and Wales and form the world’s newest independent nation, without a single shot fired. Cowe, 82, now lives in pleasant retirement in Berwick-upon-Tweed, England’s northernmost town. He can stand on the centuries-old ramparts and gaze across the border at Scotland just two miles away. He can get to Edinburgh by train — which he does once a week — faster than to the nearest English city, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. What he can’t do is cast a ballot Sept. 18. Only people living in Scotland proper have the right to vote in the binding plebiscite, leaving “expatriate” Scots such as Cowe without a say in the matter, regardless of their family history, emotional ties or sense of Scottish identity.
“I wish that Berwick could vote,” Cowe says. “A lot of people, you could say, were stranded outside of Scotland.”
Though proud of his heritage, he wants Britain to stay intact. “I don’t like to see countries breaking up,” he says. “I worked in Yugoslavia, and that all fell to bits.”
There are about 733,000 people who were born in Scotland but now live south of the border in England and Wales, according to the 2011 census. Moving among the three parts of Britain — for love, work or fun — is as easy as moving among California, Oregon and Nevada.