Brian Monteith: Bordering on the ridiculous

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It is as regular and as predictable as the swallows flying back to Capistrano, a year does not pass without a politician, usually an English Tory, saying that Scottish independence would mean border posts on all the connecting roads between Scotland and England.

And, just as one swallow does not a spring make, there is always an SNP spokesman jumping up saying it’s only scaremongering and nothing would change.

Well, true to form, this week the UK Government Europe Minister, David Lidington, warned that Scotland would not necessarily inherit the UK’s opt-out of the European Union’s Shengen agreement.

Because the UK opted out of Shengen it is still able to have passport checks and if Scotland did not obtain the same opt-out upon joining the EU then the UK would have to introduce those controls on the Scottish border to ensure there was no back-door entry from people around Europe gaining easy and unchecked access through Scotland when they would otherwise be checked at airports and ports.

The root of this argument, of course, boils down to whether or not Scotland would become a member of the European Union under the same terms as the UK, with all the opt-outs of treaties that have been negotiated over the years (and Tony Blair did not, rashly and foolishly, give up). Typically, the SNP is being too clever by half on this and let me tell you why.

Let’s say the Tory government minister is wrong and the SNP is right – that Scotland is accepted into EU membership with the same terms that it had as a member of the UK. Fair enough, there would be no need for border controls between Scotland and Britain so long as Scotland established the same security regime as the rest of the UK.

But the story does not end there, for the issue of having border controls would then be for the two countries, Scotland and the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland to decide for themselves – and surely it would not be long before Scotland would introduce such controls as it followed a Fortress Scotland policy?

Just take a look at the SNP policies on alcohol and tobacco. Taxes would go up on both the demon drink and evil weed in an attempt to make us reduce our drinking and give up the fags. Cigarettes and whisky (yes, whisky) would be cheaper in England than in Scotland and the end result would be what we already see at the English ports near France and the Low countries – the legitimate purchase of tax-paid goods abroad being searched for by the customs to find if it is over the amount allowed for “personal use” as it is brought into the UK. The same searches would soon start on people coming from England into Scotland.

These searches go further, of course, they look for counterfeit and contraband that is a highly profitable business when it is smuggled into a country with high taxes. Scotland would very likely be such a country and the smuggling would be coming from England.

The only way to counter it would be to have stop and search powers used on the A1, the A698, the M74 and all the other roads – the sort of powers that are used by UK customs at Calais before you go into the Channel Tunnel to enter Britain and even at Belfast before you take the ferry to Cairnryan. Railway journeys would not be exempt either, with documents being checked either on boarding or between countries.

The SNP likes to call all of this scaremongering but there needs to be a scare before it can be mongered and the scary thought is that after 300 years we will see barriers going up between Scotland and England.

There will be gantries with cameras catching all the details of vehicle registrations entering and leaving Scotland and you might have your car or van pulled over to see if you have illicit goods.

If the Scottish customs think you have more fags than you can smoke in a year you will have the whole lot taken, your car impounded and sold of at auction with the proceeds going to the new Scottish state. There’s certainly no reason to think that the penalties would be any less than those that currently exist at Dover.

I have not even begun to consider what measures the new centralised Scottish police force would like to use in the war against drugs being brought in from England.

Of course, England might fear such drugs coming south (as much of it does already through Scotland’s quieter ports) and have cause to start such border searches and may also see Scotland as a soft-touch on immigration and wish to split people into EU and non-EU travellers to process credentials.

My point is simple: splitting Scotland from the UK is irrevocable and will bring serious change. It creates two sovereign states out of one and the Scottish state will wish to have all the trappings of a modern bully state. It will be Scotland that will establish the border posts before England gets round to it.

Scaremongering? No, just the God’s honest truth.