I’d never heard of Kevin Foster and I’m willing to bet that despite the fact that most of the regular readers of this blog take a keen interest in politics, they’ve never heard of him either. However Kevin is the latest no-mark Conservative politician to come to Scotland to tell the benighted natives some scary stories in the hope that we’ll stop worrying our tiny wee Caledonian minds with thoughts of this independence lark.
Kevin is apparently the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Immigration, which means that he’s a very junior minion to Priti Patel at the Home Office. His duties presumably include things like helping to deport desperate migrants rescued from leaky dinghies in the English Channel so that his boss can smirk about it in the House of Commons.
On Wednesday Kevin was in Linlithgow, where there are not many desperate migrants in leaky dinghies on Linlithgow Loch whose difficulties Kevin’s boss could smirk about, so instead in order to score some nasty party points he warned journalists that the SNP’s plans for an independent Scotland as a part of the EU and the Schengen Area would necessarily mean the creation of a hard border with the rest of the UK requiring passport checks. He described this as the creation of the “Great Wall of Gretna”, probably because he fancied this as a snappy phrase that would generate some newspaper headlines in an overwhelmingly anti-independence press which would uncritically repeat his claims. Then just maybe the next time Kevin’s name was mentioned people wouldn’t go “Who? Never heard of him.” Although it’s likely that they’ll still do that anyway.
However Kevin’s claims could far more accurately be described as a Great Wall of Bullshit. The SNP does want an independent Scotland to become a part of the EU, but joining the EU does not necessarily entail becoming a part of the Schengen Area. The Schengen Area comprises 26 European countries which have officially abolished all passport and all other types of border control at their mutual borders. Ireland, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Cyprus are all EU members but none is a part of the Schengen Area. All except Ireland are committed to joining the Schengen Area eventually but there is no hard and fast timetable for them to do so. Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are not members of the EU but are all members of the Schengen Area. Ireland is a member of the EU but remains a member of the Common Travel Area along with the UK, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.
It’s important to understand the difference between the Schengen Area and freedom of movement for European citizens throughout the European Economic Area. The Schengen Area means no passport checks or controls on the mutual borders of member states. Freedom of movement means a European citizen has the legal right of entry into another European Union (or EEA)state and the right to settle and work there without having to apply for a special visa. However if you are an EU citizen crossing into a country that’s a part of the Schengen Area from a country that is not, you will still be required to show a passport, however you cannot be turned away at the border and do not need to prove you intend to return home.
Before any new state can join the Schengen Area it must gain the unanimous agreement of the existing members. Cyprus has indefinitely delayed the implementation of its membership of the Schengen Area pending the resolution of the dispute with Northern Cyprus. Ireland chose to opt out of the Schengen Area because it wished to maintain passport-free travel with the UK, the only state with which Ireland shares a land border.
There are no passport controls in operation for Irish and UK citizens travelling between the two countries. You do not need to have a passport to enter the other country. However, you must show identification in order to board a ferry or an airplane, and some airlines and sea carriers will only accept a passport as valid identification.
The two key points to note here are that joining the EU does not entail automatically becoming a part of the Schengen Area at the same time, and that as the cases of Ireland and Cyprus prove, the EU is perfectly willing to take the individual circumstances of states into account when it comes to membership of the Schengen Area. The Scottish Government has said that in the event of Scottish independence it would wish for Scotland to remain a part of the Common Travel Area with Ireland and the rest of the UK.
This would mean there would be no need for passport checks on travellers crossing between Scotland and England or travelling between Scotland and Ireland. Since Scotland’s only land border is with England, the EU would not have an issue with this. The EU is not in the business of using the Schengen Agreement, an agreement designed to remove passport checks and border checkpoints, in order to impose them needlessly on a country which has no land border with any member of the Schengen Area. It is rank scaremongering of the worst kind to suggest otherwise, which means it’s a safe bet that the Conservatives and their allies will assert it’s going to happen.
If there are to be checks on border crossings as a result of an independent Scotland rejoining the European Single Market and Customs area and restoring the right of freedom of movement throughout the EU to citizens of an independent Scotland, these would only necessarily be checks on commercial traffic which could be carried out away from the border itself. If Scotland remains a part of the Common Travel Area along with Ireland there would be no passport checks on individuals crossing the border and Scottish citizens would retain the right to travel to, settle in, and work in the rest of the UK, without the need to show a passport at the border, just as Irish citizens have the right to do now.
Dr Kirsty Hughes an expert in European law who founded the Scottish Centre on European Research, described Kevin Foster’s claims as scaremongering, and called him a hypocrite, saying: “Putting barriers between Britain and the EU – and barriers within the UK between Britain and Northern Ireland – is what Brexit did. Unlike Brexit, an independent Scotland would be independent in the EU – ie re-joining an almost half billion person market, not retreating into third country isolationism like the UK.”
One thing is certain, we will be seeing a lot more Conservative scaremongering and hypocrisy in the months ahead.
NEW MODERATION POLICY
In the wake of recent events I am determined that this site will not become a home for bigots and conspiracy theorists. They will not be welcome here. Moderation is the most stressful part of running a blog, but this site is going to continue to make the positive case for independence. With this in mind as of today a new moderation policy is in force.
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