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Boris Johnson famously doesn’t do his homework, so it’s hardly a surprise to discover that he hasn’t done his homework on the scare stories and threats which he hopes will keep Scotland a part of the UK. Mind you, neither has anyone else in the Better Together MkII campaign. As well as Boris Johnson’s scare stories which he spouted at a Conservative leadership campaign hustings meeting in Carlisle, last week we also saw former Labour First Minister Jack McConnell being given free rein on BBC2 Newsnight to repeat some hoary old scare stories of his own.
Jack McConnell insisted that there could be no independence referendum until the question of the border was settled. “We trade four times as much with the rest of the UK as we do with the EU!” he asserted. Now, it’s certainly true that Scotland’s largest single trading partner is the rest of the UK, however the four times as much figure that is frequently bandied about is based on some self-selecting estimates. There are no accurate figures.
But let’s take it for granted that the figures so beloved of anti-independence campaigners are correct. Life’s too short for graphs. The answer to the question is – that trade will continue. There are a couple of reasons why it will continue.
Firstly it will continue because even though an independent Scotland will have to go through an accession process in order to rejoin the EU, there is absolutely no reason why Scotland cannot become a part of the EU single market and common customs area on day one of independence. Opponents of independence would like people to confuse EU membership with membership of the single market and customs union. The two are not the same. Negotiations for Scottish membership of the customs union and single market can take place during the process of negotiation between Edinburgh and London following a yes vote in an independence referendum, before Scotland has become an independent country.
Since Scotland has not yet left the EU, and since an independence referendum will most likely take place either before or shortly after the UK leaves the EU, there will not have been much time for the UK to have diverged significantly from EU standards. That means that the process of ensuring that Scotland is in compliance with EU regulations will be relatively simple, since we are already in compliance with them. On day one of independence, Scotland can be a member of the single market and the customs area. This will facilitate full Scottish membership of the EU should the people of an independent Scotland vote for it.
Scottish membership of the single market and common customs area means that all the terms and conditions applying to trade between the rest of the UK and the EU will also apply to trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK. The rUK cannot selectively apply one set of rules to one part of the European single market, and another set of rules to a different part of it. Otherwise it’s not a single market.
The entire point of Brexit negotiations between the UK and the EU is to ensure the free and easy continuance of trade between the two parties. Those talks have not been going well. However even should the UK crash out of the EU at the end of October with no deal, the immediate priority for the UK will be to ensure the restoration of that free and easy trade as quickly as possible, only then it will be doing so from a position of extreme weakness as lorries queue up on Kent’s motorways and manufacturing supply chains break down. Under those circumstances, the EU will dictate the terms, and the EU has already made it abundantly clear that the continuation of an invisible border on the island of Ireland is non-negotiable. What happens in Ireland can just as easily happen along the Scottish-English border, in fact it would be unthinkable for that not to be the case, given that Scotland will be a part of the European single market exactly as the Irish Republic is.
Given that following Brexit, the rUK will be keen to ensure that it has trade deals in place with everyone and anyone, in order to minimise the damage that Brexit will cause to its economy, it is would be insane for Westminster to impose trade restrictions on Scotland – even if it could. It’s not just that England is Scotland’s largest single trading partner, Scotland is also one of England’s most important trading partners. Imposing restrictions on trade with Scotland would cause thousands of job losses and a massive hit to the economy of the rest of the UK, precisely at a time when it’s desperately trying to negotiate trade deals with Uncle Tom Cobbley and all. However, as already noted, if Scotland is a member of the European single market and customs union on day one of independence, the rUK could not impose trade restrictions on Scotland which would not also apply to all of the trade between the rUK and the entire European single market.
Despite the claims of Boris Johnson and others, an independent Scotland would not be forced to join the Schengen Zone, which permits passport free travel between most EU states. Ireland is not a member of the Schengen Zone, instead being a member of the Common Travel Area of the British Isles along with the UK, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. Ireland will continue to be a member of the Common Travel Area following Brexit. So would an independent Scotland. You won’t be asked for your passport at Gretna or Berwick or Carter’s Bar.
The Schengen agreement between EU states was all about removing barriers to travel. It would be a gross perversion of the spirit of the Schengen Treaty to use it to impose barriers to travel where none currently exist. Scotland’s only land border is with England, which means that travel between Scotland and EU states necessarily involves either a flight or a ferry journey, trips which for security reasons demand the production of photographic ID in order to travel. Forcing Scotland to join the Schengen Zone would produce a net gain of zero, while introducing the need for passport checks on Scotland’s only land border. It’s not going to happen, and anyone who suggests that it would is indulging in ridiculous scaremongering.
Since the EU is happy for Ireland to remain a member of the Common Travel Area of the British Isles, it will also extend the same concession to Scotland. However, at some point in the future, should the rUK decide that it wishes to rejoin the EU, then Scotland and Ireland would be in a position to insist that it can only do so if it signs up to the Schengen Accords, which Scotland and Ireland could then also join allowing us passport free travel to everywhere in the British Isles as well as most of Europe. Then Scotland will be able to dictate terms to Westminster. Ha. And indeed. Ha. Ha.
There will be no hard border between Scotland and the rest of the UK following independence. Private travellers will continue to journey unimpeded between Scotland and the rUK. Trade between Scotland and the rUK will continue. Even in the worst case scenario, there would only be electronic checks on commercial vehicles, but even that worst case scenario is vanishingly unlikely. If there is no need for infrastructure on the Irish border, there is no need for any on the Scottish border either. The rUK can’t have it both ways. It just wants people in Scotland to think it can in order to scare, threaten, and intimidate us into voting against independence.
But there’s another consideration here. An independent Scotland will be able to do what Ireland does. When Ireland became independent its trade was overwhelmingly with the rest of the UK. Ireland was impoverished, poor, and its economy was weak. As an independent state and a member of the EU, Ireland has been able to develop its trading ties with other EU states, which has benefited the Irish economy enormously. An independent Scotland would be able to do the same. Independence opens up vast opportunities for Scotland. It would permit the development of direct exports to other countries, exports which currently go through England. Scotland could develop container ports and terminals, and see a massive growth in its direct trade with other nations. And all the while, the border with England will remain open.
The biggest border is the one in the minds of Scottish people, the wall of fear and insecurity built up by British nationalists which prevents us from recognising Scotland’s full potential. As an independence referendum approaches, as the UK destroys itself with Brexit, as the Westminster establishment itself has torn down all the arguments deployed against Scotland in 2014, they grow increasingly hysterical, their scaremongering borders on madness. A hard border between Berwick and Gretna exists only in the minds of opponents of independence desperate to scare Scotland into submission.
But brick by brick, the wall of fear is coming down to reveal the opportunities and potential which await Scotland when it rejoins the family of independent states as an equal partner. The only border that restricts an independent Scotland is the border of our imaginations.