Geography buffs received a shock last month when it was revealed that Doncaster, a southern Yorkshire industrial town, is in fact a part of Scotland. This peculiar realisation came about due to an examination of the medieval law treaties concerned with the Anglo-Scottish relations. As part of the Treaty of Durham – an agreement designed to belie animosity between the kings of Scotland and England in 1136 – Doncaster was given to Scottish rule, an act which has never technically been reversed. Unofficially Henry II reclaimed Doncaster for the English crown in 1157, but since this was never entered into the law tracts it was not legally binding.
This is not the first instance of outdated laws or clerical errors which have recently been discovered, causing either hilarity or controversy. Granted, the rumour that Berwick upon Tweed was, until recently, still engaged in the Crimean war is in fact a false one, but it led to the declaration of peace between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Russia in the 60’s and the iconic statement by the Mayor of Berwick: ‘Tell the Russians they can sleep easy in their beds.’ Clearly British law is much like a teenager’s bedroom – cluttered with rubbish and useless junk.
This begs the question as to what point archaic laws should be relevant today. Would you expect to see cabbies driving around with a bale of hay and a sack of oats? And should they really ask every passenger whether they have the small pox or the plague? Why should a person who decides to break their boiled egg by the pointy bit be sentenced to a day in the stocks? Indeed, the majority of people break the law on Christmas Day, since it is technically illegal to eat mince pies on the 25th of December thanks to the puritanical Oliver Cromwell. If all of the laws in the UK were actually enforced, then almost every one of us would be considered a law-breaker in some way or another.
These are all trivialities however, small laws which are merely a quirk of their times and can, for the most part, be ignored in everyday life. The problem occurs when such technicalities refer to the question of nationality and international relations. For instance, technically speaking, North and South Korea are still at war with each other, which is fine for now but could potentially cause problems in the future. If Doncaster’s new identity is taken seriously then it could potentially stir up old issues over the border between England and Scotland, particularly given the recent push for Scottish independence.
The people of Doncaster seem to have wholeheartedly welcomed the news of their Scottish heritage, with Mayor Peter Davies announcing ‘It’s clearly in the interests of Doncaster to be in Scotland; we’ll get free prescriptions, free tuition for students and free care for the elderly.” In fact, if Salmond’s independence reform is successful then the Doncastrians won’t be the only people looking to benefit from it. Rupert Murdoch seems to consider this to be the case, as shown by his recent Tweet: ‘Let Scotland go and compete. Everyone would win.’ With a politician as popular as Salmond, independent Scotland could seem a dream come true to many, especially compared to the perceived car crash of English politics. So who wouldn’t want to be a part of it?
As of 2014 and the potential success of the referendum, will we be seeing more towns dredging up outdated treaties and historical loop-holes in order find a place among the Scots? And if so, will the Scottish government accept these as newly rediscovered territories as little pieces of Scotland in England? Should they? Laws are all well and good, but they cannot dictate identity. Just because the law says that the Doncastrians are Scottish, this does not magically instill them with a Scottish identity, and it does not automatically erase their English one. Anyone who has lived across the border will be able to tell you that there is a distinct, tangible, difference in identity and attitude between the English and the Scottish.
If, however, the Doncastrians do decide to don kilts and call themselves Scottish then there will be one major disadvantage for them; due to yet another peculiar law it is perfectly legal to kill a Scotsman in York, provided that is Scotsman is carrying a bow and arrow. Just something to bear in mind. [zoe Bartliff]