Theresa May, who presides over the dysfunction that is the Home Office, came to Scotland this weekend to make a wee speech to the geriatrics and the odd middle class student who make up the dwindling band of Scottish Tories. As she vowed to erect barbed wire fences all along the border, complete with G4S security guards and sniffer dogs specially trained to catch Irn Bru smugglers, the wee bunch of Scottish Tories clapped and applauded. They were soon joined in their cheer by random Unionists crowing on the interwebbies. I’ve not seen anyone collude in their own misery with such enthusiasm since having the misfortune to witness a stage show featuring a happy masochist getting his testes nailed to a plank. But even that evening was less surreal than the Scottish Tory conference.
Onieweys, the substance of Theresa’s threat, such as it was, was that she would consider imposing border controls if Scotland becomes independent. The foundation of this threat is Theresa’s belief that Scotland will freely open its doors to all and any asylum seekers, benefits tourists, and people who won’t vote Tory, who will take one look at the rain stoating down at Embra airport and enquire if the trams go to Berwick. Theresa thinks that life on income support in a run down council estate in Tory ruled Britain is more attractive to people who cross the planet in order to better themselves than a decent paid job in Dundee.
Scotland is just a tad further away from Europe than Dover, anyone seeking to use Scotland as a back door into England isn’t going to hitch a ride on the back of a lorry. They’re certainly not about to stow away on a high speed train, since Westminster has no plans for it to reach Scotland anytime soon. But perhaps Theresa is planning for the eventuality that a flotilla of canoes may set out from Denmark for Aberdeen, laden with asylum seekers bent on reaching London. It’s because of forward thinking like that that she rose so high in Tory ranks.
The Republic of Ireland is a part of the Common Travel Area with the UK. The Scottish Government proposes that after independence, Scotland will remain a part of the Common Travel Area like the Republic of Ireland. It makes sense. At least to everyone but Theresa May.
However Theresa is insistent that Scottish independence will undo all the “good work” the Home Office has been doing contributing to the hysteria over immigration, and the only way it could possibly keep doing good work in pandering to Daily Mail columnists would be for the Scottish Government to submit its immigration policy to Theresa for prior approval.
Entry into the Common Travel Area is dependent upon the foreign minister of an independent Scotland offering up his bollocks, or in the case of a female foreign minister the bollocks of a nominated male relative, so they can be nailed to a plank by Theresa. Following careful consideration by Theresa, the bollocks will have to be displayed on an advertising van round the streets of Birmingham, under a banner headline screaming SHOP A JOCK ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT. Otherwise Theresa couldn’t possibly countenance allowing the border to remain open.
I’m quite sure that Irish government ministers past and present will be thrilled to learn that they are in fact unpaid lackeys of the UK Home Office whose duty is to implement Theresa’s will on pain of bollock planking. But I don’t recall seeing the bollocks of an Irish foreign minister ever being displayed by Theresa, and that’s the sort of image that would tend to stick in the mind. The Irish Republic may very well have its fair share of masochists, however begging for more punishment as a matter of public policy is restricted to Scotland’s Unionist parties.
Ireland has its own immigration policy which is tailored to its own needs. Dublin does not need to get the nod from Theresa before deciding to issue more green cards for those Ireland considers to be suitably qualified migrants. Perhaps they do in the imaginations of Unionists, where Westminster is a colossus which strides the globe punching above its weight and bowing all the little people to its mighty will. But in the real world the views of the UK Home Secretary have as much bearing on the immigration policy of the Irish Republic as Prince Charle’s views on architecture influence the choice of venues of the Radical Independence Campaign.
What does exist however, is an agreement negotiated between Dublin and Westminster to uphold one another’s immigration decisions. This arrangement dates back to the establishment of the Common Travel Area in 1923. The British were not inclined to impose border controls along the newly established border between Northern Ireland and what was then the Irish Free State, and the Irish were happy not to deliberately sabotage British policy on immigration from third countries in return for the guarantee of freedom of movement throughout the island.
So the agreement that the Unionists claim would mean an independent Scotland surrendering its immigration policy to Theresa May is in the public domain – at least the equivalent agreement between Dublin and Westminster is. It was revealed in answer to a question in the Dáil in 1980.
A member of the Irish Parliament asked Brian Lenihan, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs if there was any agreement between the Irish authorities and Great Britain “concerning dealings with aliens or immigrants”, and enquired whether the Irish Government was considering changing the agreement.
Since 1952 there has, by agreement, been no immigration control on the movement of persons between Britain. Northern Ireland and the State. A necessary concommitant is a measure of co-operation between the two immigration services. This is recognised formally in Article 5 (2) (j) of the Aliens Order 1946 (at present inserted by Article 3 of the Aliens (Amendment) Order 1975, (S.I. No. 12B of 1975)) which empowers an immigration officer to refuse leave to land to an alien coming to the State from a place not in Britain or Northern Ireland if he is satisfied that the alien “intends to travel, whether immediately or not, to Great Britain or Northern Ireland and the officer is satisfied that the alien would not qualify for admission to Great Britain or Northern Ireland if he arrived there from a place other than the State”.
The Government have no proposal for any change in the arrangements.
This arrangement quite specifically does not mean that Dublin must submit its immigration policies to Westminster for approval, neither does it mean that Dublin cannot seek to attract skilled and qualified migrants into an independent Ireland. It means that Ireland agreed to prevent the entry into Ireland of anyone who, in the opinion of the Irish immigration officer (and not, please note, in the opinion of Theresa May) intended to travel onward to the UK, but who would not be legally admitted there.
That’s it. That’s the onerous condition imposed by membership of the Common Travel Area. You can see why the Irish Government didn’t see any need to change it. And note also that both the questioner and the Foreign Minister know that the Irish Government has the right and ability to negotiate changes in the agreement, or even end it, as and when it sees fit.
If Scotland seeks to attract new residents, we want them to stay here and contribute to our economy. We want them to become a part of the fabric of Scotland. We do not seek to open our borders to absolutely anyone who might ever have expressed an interest in settling in England, Wales or Northern Ireland and immediately pack them off on their way south, just to annoy Theresa May and the Daily Mail. We could maybe sell them a packet of crisps and a tin of bru as they made their way to the English border, but other than that they’re not going to do a great deal to help grow the Scottish economy – which is after all the point of encouraging immigration into a depopulated land.
So when we distill away the froth, boil off the alarmism, and chisel away the disgusting wee crusty bits that cling to any Tory statement on Scottish independence, what we find is this: Theresa May has just warned Scotland that she may have to impose border controls if an independent Scottish Government is even more vindictively stupid than a Tory Home Secretary.
I don’t think we need to worry about that Theresa. But even in the unlikely event that it was as vindictively stupid, Scotland could always vote it out. The Union doesn’t give us that option with Theresa. We’ve only got one way of voting her out.