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Borderline madness

Posted on May 26, 2013 by

This week, as already noted on this site, we’ve seen another unwelcome deployment of the old “you’d need a passport to visit your granny in Carlisle once the border posts go up” fearbomb. It’s a simple argument that tries to play on both the aversion to borders in trade and travel, and also the fear of immigration.


The reality, as you may have come to expect by now, is rather different.

The Unionist argument goes like this; an independent Scotland would lead to border posts being erected between Scotland and rUK, since Scotland would be required to join up to the Schengen agreement as part of their entry requirements to the EU as an independent state.

(We’ll leave aside the fact that Scotland would already be in the EU, despite the many assertions to the contrary from the No camp, and focus on the argument as it stands.)

Scotland currently benefits from being in the Common Travel Area (CTA) of the UK and Ireland, which includes the Republic of Ireland (ROI). When the Schengen agreement was set up in 1995, creating cross-border freedom of movement within the 26 states that signed, the UK and ROI opted out and maintained the existing CTA that allowed free travel between the two countries.

The two governments justified this position on the grounds that both are island states without any land borders (except with each other) who can better control immigration via the various sea and airports into the CTA. Inevitably this requires a large amount of co-operation on the immigration policy between the two countries.

It is this system that the Yes Scotland campaign says will be maintained after independence; after all, runs the logic, if the CTA is allowed for existing EU members the UK and ROI then why would Scotland be denied the same option, particularly as Scotland is already in the CTA and the EU as part of the UK?

Expanding on the theme of borders this week was an article in the Scotsman from Brian Wilson entitled “SNP plans border on the ridiculous” which noted:

“The issue of Scottish immigration policy was addressed by our external affairs minister, Humza Yousaf, who bemoaned the “restrictive” approach pursued from Westminster. 

“He asserted that independence is the only way to get an immigration policy suited to Scotland’s needs. In other words, we would have a different immigration policy from what was left of the UK. At this point, one wonders if these guys ever think anything through before glibly declaring policy.

“Inescapably, where a land border exists with different immigration policies on either side of it, you get border controls for both goods and people. So, while complaining about UK immigration policy is one thing, committing Scotland to a different regime is a can of worms that Yousaf has obligingly opened.”

Missing from this statement is the recognition that Scotland would be in the European Economic Area (EEA) as part of the EU, along with – UKIP permitting – the rUK. The EEA consists of 27 EU Member States and three EFTA States (Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway), some of which are in Schengen and others which aren’t. Its purpose is to create into an internal market governed by the same basic rules.

These rules aim to enable goods, services, capital, and persons to move freely about the EEA in an open and competitive environment, a concept referred to as “the four freedoms”. Because of the EEA, there are no trade restrictions between internal borders of the EU and EFTA meaning that goods can pass from one country to another seamlessly and without fear of restriction.

The only threat to the four freedoms would be if the rUK chose to leave the EU in 2017 and also didn’t renew its membership of the EEA (the world’s largest free trading community) by other means. However if Westminster decide on that course of action then Scots would be significantly better off having voted for independence and remaining within the EEA trading bloc. Needing a passport to travel to England would probably seem a small price to pay given the economic bullet they’d just dodged.

(In fact, not even the most anti-EU Tory and UKIP politicians have advocated leaving the EEA, and for good reason. It would be tantamount to national economic suicide.)

But what about immigration? The argument is being put across that if Scotland is within the CTA then it would not have any freedom to change immigration policy and would in practice have to be dictated to by the rUK, whose politics on the subject are currently racing to the right at breakneck speed.

Wilson makes this argument, saying:

“Immigrants are, by definition, people who can see the benefits of cross-border mobility. So, if it became obvious that the easy way into “restrictive” England (by then under permanent right-wing government) was to board a plane to welcoming Inverness before catching the first train to London, then why would they not do that if there were no border controls to challenge them?” 

But why would immigrants prefer “restrictive” England to Scotland? Imagine you’re an immigrant coming to Scotland on either a student or a work visa. In order to have received that visa you must have obtained an invitation letter from either your place of study or from your employer (easily verifiable to the Scottish borders agency) and have somewhere to live.

Why then would you decide to up sticks, leave your studies or employment and move the length of Britain to become an illegal immigrant in a country whose government is increasingly right-wing & anti-immigration, which is in the process of dismantling the NHS and the welfare state, where illegal immigrants sleep in garden sheds, paying exorbitant rents to do so in order to be treated as slave labour, and is a country from which you could be deported at any moment?

Before spending hundreds of millions of pounds* on setting up border posts – and enraging the business community by doing so – any rUK government would have to consider just how big a threat such a scenario posed. And with the immigrant “problem” in England largely concentrated in the south, it’s difficult to imagine any Westminster government seeing any votes to be won by such a course of action.

But even if there were, in the post-UKIP political landscape of England, what of the practicalities? The land border between Scotland and England stretches for 96 miles between the Solway Firth along the Cheviot Hills and the river Tweed, to the North Sea. It was legally established in 1237 by the Treaty of York between England and Scotland, and has remained unchanged ever since with the exception of a small area around Berwick, which was taken by England in 1482.

So what would the rUK government do? Build a 96-mile-long, heavily-policed wall to stop the Scots and English from mingling? Because there’s no other way to prevent cross-border travel, and without such a wall the costs of setting up border posts – which would only be used by law-abiding citizens anyway – would have no effect on illegal immigration, drugs or human trafficking, or any other aspect of border control. Those who wished to bypass border control would simply cross at another point, making the whole thing an expensive, politically-insane exercise in futility.

*(We know that the Israel–Palestine “security wall” is 430 miles long and cost about £1bn to construct, so we could reasonably speculate that to undertake such a project would cost the rUK government somewhere in the region of £223m, although probably much more given Westminster’s track record with large infrastructure projects.)

But what if, contrary to all reason, they went ahead? The scrapping of the Nimrod fleet left the country without eyes and ears out over the water, a situation highlighted spectacularly when the HMS York was dispatched to Scotland all the way from Portsmouth in response to a security scare as a Russian fleet (including an aircraft carrier) came within 30 miles of the Moray coast in 2011.

The cuts had left the coastline so vulnerable that an aircraft carrier could sneak up on the UK, never mind a couple of determined guys in a rowing boat. Coupled with the fact that the UK government even went so far as to cut emergency tugs around Scotland to save money – thereby endangering shipping right round Scotland and forcing BP to step in to ensure safety – it is hard to conceive that Westminster would have the spare cash (or the will) to build the sort of border installations that it’s trying to scare the population of Scotland into believing will exist after independence.

Dire warnings of checkpoints and passports exist solely as scaremongering – the moment Scots voted Yes they would have lost their purpose. The rUK would have nothing to gain from wasting vast sums of money on a Berwick-to-Carlisle version of the Berlin Wall, and the motives of anyone suggesting otherwise must be treated with the greatest of suspicion.

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32 to “Borderline madness”

  1. handclapping says:

    Just a thought; have the timing of these pieces ever been checked against the phases of the moon?

  2. Tris says:

    These people are so racist. 
    Curren warbling on about how she couldn’t handle her son becoming a “foreigner”, and all this hassle with borders.
    Even Tony Benn (married for 50 years or so to an American) made capital out of the fact that his mother would have been a foreigner. Surely his children must be half English and half American. Is that a problem for the international socialist?
    But you’re right, Scott. Once the yes vote comes through, all the silly threats will end, and they will put that they like to call their minds, to the business of getting the best deal they can for England.

  3. ronald alexander mcdonald says:

    Yes more scaremongering pish!
    All I can say right now is Hibees for the cup. 

  4. Doug Daniel says:

    Wow, I missed the thing about BP stepping into the tug-shaped void. So already the UK has begun privatising its defences? Interesting.
    Good article, Scott. There are so many contradictions with the borders rubbish. One thing I thought you were maybe going to look at here was differences between Irish and UK immigration policies – after all, if rUK will dictate Scottish immigration policy, it stands to reason they must already dictate Irish immigration policy! A point I’ll make next time someone tries to suggest such a silly thing.

  5. Albert Herring says:

    Tony Benn’s mother was Scottish, so when Scotland becomes independent, half of Tony Benn will become foreign to the other half of Tony Benn. Furthermore his children will become 3/4’s foreign. It’s all very confusing – what’s an international socialist to do?
    p.s. I wonder which bit of Tony Benn hid the McCrone report.

  6. Krackerman says:

    Point to note but if 60% of Scotlands trade is with the rest of the UK and they’re out of the EEA and we’re IN then I’m not entirely sure that constitutes dodging the bullet or being considerably better off – at least not in the short term until additional intra-EEA trade can be identified….
    Best outcome is the most likely though – we’ll all stay in the EEA – anything else is suicide….

  7. Adam Davidson says:

    Albert Herring
    Damn good point about Toby Benn and the McCrone report. Who else was in the cabinet then?

  8. Ivan says:

    Another point worth considering.
    In the unlikely scenario that rUk leaves the EU…. anyone with a business based in rUK that wants to continue to trade within the EU and benefit from the free trade area has the option of relocating to Indy Scotland (much easier option that relocating to mainland Europe or even to Ireland).
    Businesses have been doing that across Europe for decades.
    I worked for a while in the Motorola plant in Flensburg (in Germany, just across the border from Denmark). The only reason that plant existed because it was set up by the Danish telecomms company Storno in 1967 who wanted a manufacturing plant within the EU (this was before Denmark joined the EU).
    So while rUK leaving the EU post Indy isnt an ideal scenario it would actually offer significant business opportunities for Indy Scotland.

  9. Dave McEwan Hill says:

    What makes you think that Scotland being independent will make any difference to how comapanies and industries do their businesses? Why would anybody stop doing constructive and profitable business?
    This is another of the typical half wit insinuations that the Noron campaign think is a winner.  It’s a joke in fact.
    I had the some discussion with a daftie recently. I conceded we couldn’t buy new Volkswagons in Scotland nor Swiss cheese. He looked at me rather strangely and wandered off a bit puzzled

  10. Wullie B says:

    @Doug Daniel , although BP stood in for the tug its based on the east side of the country, I also seem to recall all the oil companies are involved but the west coast is left without, the case of the Passenger vessel running ashore at Oban  on monday afternoon could have required the tug although luckily the ship got off on her own power with a little help from the local lifeboat and an offer from a visiting scalloper

  11. Fay says:

    God I’m embarrassed by some of my countrymen. A friend of mine said Oh aye and what’s Alex Salmond going to do for us cos he talks Oot his bum what you gonna do when you get Independence and the NHS crumbles eh? Cos it’s gonna happen I don’t know much about politics but I know what’s what. We are no longer friends I have some standards.

  12. James Kay says:

    I always used to think that Willie Ross was one of the better Secretary of States for Scotland. As far as I know, he never aspired to any ‘higher’ job (such as Defence), and I fondly imagined that he always had Scotland’s interests at heart.
    Now I must question his collusion with the suppression of the McCrone report. How could that be in Scotland’s interest?

  13. pmcrek says:

    Would be difficult yes but not a total disaster, after all we’d still be in the largest free trade area in the world, most of whom would be literally biting our hands off to buy our renewable electricity, oil and water. I’d also expect to see Scotland and Eire start to pick up a sizeable chunk of the rUKs EU export services industry.
    That said however, we all know its not going to happen, if the rUK left free trade association with EEA and as a result Scotland, there would have to be severe water restrictions imposed, there would be strict fuel and food rationing and alternating blackouts in the power grid and thats just the goods no longer being exported from Scotland.

    Notably as well, profit margins of nearly half rUK’s economy would be put under severe pressure, with the recession on top of this they’d either move or go under. The economic turmoil this would cause would cut the rUK’s income to the point the IMF would have to come in and privitise everything and the rUK would spend its existence simply servicing its increasing debt.
    Leaving the EEA would frankly be a branch Davidian-esque mass suicide for the rUK.

  14. Braco says:

    James Kay,
    those feelings you have for Willie Ross, Donald Dewar, John Smith etc. etc. are simply the remnants of Labour in Scotland’s ability in the past, through complete control of the Media and National Institutions, to be able to project their heroes as somehow National heroes.
    ‘Father of the Nation’ statues and burials alongside the kings on Iona etc.
    As history has passed and documentation and backroom deals are uncovered the sad truth is slowly dawning. The truth that these people were simply Party Men who wore a coat of Scots Nationality for politically expedient reasons.
    They were created to embody Scots political identity in order to control the only weapon of defence we have ever had as a Nation within the UK. The ability to speak as a Nation against unelected Government imposed from Westminster. Control of this, our only weapon, ensured it was never deployed.
    Through the Thatcher years, not a peep from our fifty labour heroes. No threat of National unity and the break up of the Union taken to the Tory table in defense of their constituents and the Industries they depended on.
    Look at the speed of change forced on the UK as soon as a party was willing to pick up that old cobwebbed and previously unused weapon in defense of Scot’s democratic interests within the Union. (It’s quite aw inspiring!)
    Instead our fearsome fighters for international Labour and Scottish Industry watched as Scotland was dismantled while their own bank balances grew. Their Natition was stripped while each and every one of them were personally advanced, enriched and/or ennobled.

    Donald Dewar died a millionaire FFS! 

  15. ianbeag says:

    Adam Davidson says:
    26 , 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Albert HerringDamn good point about Toby Benn and the McCrone report. Who else was in the cabinet then?
    Something else Tony Benn said “Oil is the basic wealth of a nation if you have it and cherishing it, nourishing it, encouraging it, controlling it is what it is National policy should be about.   For those who have not seen the video you can watch Tony Benn turning the tap on the first oil from the Hamilton field in June 1975. Listen to his comments from 12min 10sec of the video.  Lots of other interesting comments also. 

  16. Dee says:

    I suggest Tony Benn be interviewed immediately regarding what he knew about lying to Scots about true wealth of North Sea Oil. what can he add to what Healey has admitted to. I wonder if some organisation would take it on,  arrange some kind of meeting for this week, because if you combine the Healey story with what Benn knew, then that is explosive stuff which could be carried all the way to the referendum…

  17. James Kay says:

    I did not include Donald Dewar, John Smith etc., etc. in my comment. It was a specific response to the previous comment, linking the members of the Westminster Cabinet at about the time of the McCrone Report.
    if I had to extend my list of MPs who had Scotland’s interests at heart, I would include Alex Salmond and Tom Johnson.

  18. Les Wilson says:

    SO,How go we get back the stolen area around Berwick on Tweed ?AND of course the 6,000sq miles of our seas, which were also stolen with as usual,  the compliance of Labour Scottish MP’s and MSP’s!

  19. Les Wilson says:

    Oh,O/T Does anyone know what happened to our share of Antartica? or Doncaster for that matter!
    Well, if this is how they want to be……….

  20. Boorach says:

    On the Benn family lineage, was Benn junior in the labour cabinet pre 1997 referendum?
    I ask, because of the ‘secret’ cabinet papers which, whatever they contain, is so detrimental to the naysayers even the current con/dem coalition will not release them.
    Like Father like son?

  21. Braco says:

    James Kay,
    sorry, I didn’t mean to imply you did. It was just the thought of Willie ‘McCrone Report’ Ross being considered one of the good guys that simply set me off on one. (sadsadsmily)

  22. Scott Minto (Aka Sneekyboy) says:

    Point to note but if 60% of Scotlands trade is with the rest of the UK and they’re out of the EEA and we’re IN then I’m not entirely sure that constitutes dodging the bullet or being considerably better off – at least not in the short term until additional intra-EEA trade can be identified….
    I think you have the wrong end of the stick there.
    The rUK would still need those goods and services and anywhere they went would now have trade tariffs so trade with Scotland would be no more expensive relatively speaking to other countries – yet transportation costs would be less.
    If Scotland stays within the EEA and the rUK leaves then the rUK will have to source the goods and services it got from the EEA from elsewhere – or continue with them from the EEA but with trade tariffs in place. They wont just replicate the goods and services domestically as they would need time and the resources to do so.
    Even if they did eventually manage to domestically source the goods and services it would be many years into the future and both the rUK and Scottish trading agreements and % will have changed.
    In the meantime Scotland would still trade with them (and we can source goods we got from rUK from the EU if they are cheaper). Scotland would still be trading with the rUK (and may even end up better off due to trade tariffs) but would also have access to the EEA.
    Its MORE likely that the rUK would see exports to Scotland drop than the other way around!

  23. Tris says:

    Boorach: Was Benn junior in the labour cabinet pre 1997 referendum?
    Yes, I think he was, Boorach

  24. Graham Ennis says:

    £250 million for a Border wall sounds a bargain. As England sinks relentlessly economically, and slides to the right more and more every year, there will soon be a steady stream of people leaving and trying to move to Scotland. I suppose that it might amount to perhaps several hundred thousand?…..over say 5 years?……but if there was an economic crash in the South…entirely probable, then things become nasty, with a flood of actual economic migrants and real refugees, desperate to escape the Tory Hell Hole. Scotland could not cope, in those circumstances. None of this would be of Scotland’s making. Some of my friends in England have said very clearly they could not stay in a Tory/UKIP  right wing state, that had left the EU and repealed the welfare state. These are skilled  professionals. God knows what the poor would do. I raise these awful issues, as they now, incredibly, look possible. They do need to be discussed. After Independence, Scotland would look very attractive, socially, and politically, to a lot of Southerners. A grim situation that would not be of Scotlands making, and not her fault, in any way.

  25. Minor detail- the English/ Scottish border was not finally finalised until 1552 when the Scots Dyke was built across the Debatable Lands near Canonbie in Dumfriesshire. 

  26. sneddon says:

    @Alistair Livingston
    That’s debatable……………I’ll get ma coat 🙂

  27. Joybell says:

    @ Graham Ennis
    So would your friends in England really move to Scotland if they had no job to go to here?  On the other hand, if they did get a job here it would probably mean they would be worthwhile additions to our society.
    We have been made to feel we’re too wee and too poor.  Are we now going to be too big and too rich instead?
    Sigh.  You just cannot win.

  28. AnneDon says:

    @Les Wilson – re the 6000 miles of sea:
    Could anyone confirm my understanding: that Westminster was able to take this precisely because we were not independent, ie, it was an internal matter.
    So once we become independent, international law would force Westminster to return it to Scotland, along with our other assets?

  29. Caroline Corfield says:

    Some economic migration may well occur, but perhaps some of them may well find being grilled on their life story at the bus stop by wee wummin too socially awkward and they might move back down. When Ireland was a Celtic Tiger I don’t recall a mass migration westward from these shores to take advantage of it. The hard facts about economic migration are that though it looks like the best idea not everyone wants to move, not everyone takes the risk, not everyone feels they’ll cope in a new environment. The ones who move are a particular type, often entrpeneurs who are willing to take risks, often skilled people looking for better opportunities. It’s why I can’t understand anti-immigrant stances. These people found money in poor countries, risked their lives, crossed countries to get to our country – they’ve more faith in our country than many of the indigenous population and having risked it all they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by making a go of it in the new place. A country that has exported so many of it’s own for those exact reasons really should understand the situation with more finesse. While there were Scots who left for a tenner to go to Australia there were also Scots who stayed, even as the economy of Scotland was ground into dust – why on earth is the rUK going to be significantly different from that?

  30. Seasick Dave says:

    The biggest fearbomb for me is finding out that I have a granny in Carlisle who is quite possibly, erm, ‘foreign’.
    Questions will have to be asked 🙂
    BTW, Fay, don’t give up on your friends. Now is the time to start working on them, not isolating them.

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