Heather's Monthly Articles
Will Scotland get a divorce?
September 2014



September 18 is fast approaching. It's a date that could go down in Scottish history, as residents take to the polls in a referendum that will decide whether their country will no longer be part of the United Kingdom.

England and Scotland have been unified since 1707; for 800 years prior to that time the two countries were separate states with separate legislatures, although they did share a monarch. Should Scotland break away, Elizabeth II would remain Queen of both countries, but a lot of other things will change.

The U.K. for instance will most definitely rise in the rankings of most densely populated countries. It is currently in 45th place, but would go to 29th as without Scotland the U.K. loses 32% of its land, but only 8% of its population. Much, however, remains uncertain. Including immigration policies.

The British Home Secretary announced back in May that an independent Scotland would result in border controls being set up between the two countries. Having to show a passport to visit friends and relatives is bad enough, but imagine if you're a sixteen-year-old passport-less star-crossed lover planning an elopement to Gretna Green? It puts a bit of a damper on things when you have to get your parents' signature on a passport application so you can be a runaway bride or bridegroom.


Gretna Green. The ultimate wedding destination for elopers since the passing of Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753 - and no, I didn't make up that name. His was a law which required all English marriages to be approved by the Church and forbade those under the age of 21 from marrying without their parents' consent. In Scotland though, not only were girls allowed to be married from the age of 12, while boys could marry at 14, there were also no restrictions as to whom could perform a wedding ceremony.

Youngsters of yore wanting to get married began fleeing to Scotland, where their stagecoaches' first stop was Gretna; a changing post just two miles across the border. Gretna provided not only the soil on which couples could marry, but also officiators in the form of the local blacksmiths, who were known as "anvil priests". Although technically, an officiator wasn't a necessity. Back then all that was required was for the couple to stand on Scottish soil in the presence of two witnesses and declare that they were husband and wife; known as Marriage by Declaration.

In 1854 a new law was passed in Scotland that required at least one of the parties wishing to marry to have taken up residence for 21 days before the wedding. Another law passed in 1929 that required both parties to be at least 16 years old. In 1940 "marriage by declaration" was outlawed and the residency requirement was abolished in 1977. That was also the year English couples over the age of 18 could get married without the consent of their parents.


Today marriage without parental consent is still legal in Scotland for 16 year olds, which makes "running away to Gretna Green" for some English youngsters a romantic possibility. The lack of a residency requirement across the border also means that Gretna Green is the go-to-spot for impromptu marriages for English couples of all ages.

An estimated 5,000 marriages ceremonies a year are performed in Gretna, spawning an entire industry catering to the needs of those wishing to tie the knot. Hotels, photographers, bridal wear boutiques, wedding planners, beauty parlors, gift shops: all businesses that rely for the most part on customers from England. For one businessman, the possibility of the two countries breaking up is unthinkable.

"We don't do divorce at Gretna Green", said Alasdair Houston, Chairman of Gretna Green Ltd., as he publically donated £20,000 to Scotland's Better Together; an organization that runs a campaign encouraging voters to say "no thanks" to separation.

"We may have squabbles from time to time. But to go from that to saying 'full divorce please' would be utter madness."

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