Papers Please! Better Together warns of fences, flags, passport offices and tight border controls into the Union of Scottish Socialist Republics.
It’s 2017, The Scottish Union has been independent for a year now, very few people are ever allowed to pass into the dark, secretive state; you are one of them. You rattle in up the road towards the Gretna border station in your Transit van, the vital supplies of Twining’s tea and Bombay Sapphire gin in the back. You reach the wall, a seventy mile stretch of concrete, topped with barbed wire and with Saltire sporting watch towers dotted along. You roll up to the checkpoint, men in dark uniforms take you into an office to question you and browse your papers, dog handlers search the van outside. It’s all okay though, they can see by your passport that you pass through here often with vital goods for the Motherland. You are sent on your way. Another is not so lucky; as you drive out the other side you see a tourist being taken away – an unregistered camera and incorrect papers. Arrested for spying. But this is all routine for you, you look straight ahead, switch to the right hand side of the road, and continue onwards to Salmondgrad.
I’m sorry, I may have got a touch carried away there, but you can see how ridiculous this sounds – if a little embellished. But this is the kind of fear that the Better Together campaign thrives on, and one of its big stories of the debate. Granted, we might not be talking about the Union of Scottish Socialist Republics or deliveries to Salmondgrad, but the border is definitely something they’d have you believe in.
It is the belief of the Better Together campaign (at least in public) that an official border would have to be erected between England and Scotland should Scotland decide to vote for independence. This border would likely have checkpoints, fences, passport control, customs, make you switch to the other side of the road, etc. Just like those ones all across the continent. Oh wait…
It’s not an unknown fact that in Europe, we have something called the Schengen agreement, according to which, people, goods and labour can flow freely between signatory states. In other words, no borders. In fact, I could walk from Portugal’s west coast to the Black Sea coast of Romania and never be required to show my passport.
How has this panned out for Europe then? Badly, I assume? Nope. It’s been a rather good success, actually. People can travel all over Europe as tourists, only needing to show their passport once if their from outside the EU, spending money, taking in culture, trying desperately to speak the local language, etc. People can also live in one country and trade in another; the amount of trading that EU member states can now do with each other, from the wee chappy delivering some quality German Pilsner to a pub in France to multinational corporations opening up across Europe, is huge. This flow of people and trade ultimately means the flow of money and jobs. It also makes for much better holidays!
But then, Britain is an island, so we’re different, as we’ve so often been told by Westminster. Although that hasn’t stopped Iceland signing up to the Schengen area, despite not even being in the EU or using the Euro.
But what about the UK’s land border? Yeah, you know, with the Republic of Ireland. You’ll note that on a journey from Belfast to Dublin, you won’t be stopped at Dromad and be required to show your passport. The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is, in fact, quite open. Even if I wanted to sail into Ireland or fly into Ireland, I would not be required to show a passport (although passengers flying in may be asked for identification or proof of nationality for security reasons).
So why is this? Well, because there’s too much trade that flows between the two states to justify putting up a border. Putting up restrictions would stifle the flow of trade between both countries and invariably hurt both economies to some extent. Secondly, a large number of people work across these borders, visit family across them, or simply travel through them on a daily basis. Apart from hurting the economy, it would invariably piss a few people off.
This is all down to something called the “Common Travel Area”. It’s essentially a mini Schengen area within the British Isles, comprising Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey.
So, if Scotland decided to become an independent state, it would automatically be excluded from the CTA, would it? Well, whilst Project Fear would have you believe that, it’s most unlikely to work. Scotland, as I discussed in last week’s post, is England’s second biggest trade partner and England is Scotland’s biggest trade partner. Setting up a border between the two would damage this trade quite substantially and hurt, not only the national economies, but local economies close to the border that rely on a great deal of cross-border activity.
You see, it’s not only the big corporations working across the border, but it’s small businesses and communities that profit from an open border too. This can be from a local decorators’ company in Carlisle getting a call out to a job in Langholm just over the border, to a farmer in Clappers popping up the road to Foulden to buy a Scottish plain loaf and Lorne sausage for his breakfast. Not only are there Scots working down south, but there are English people working up north too, and some Welsh, but they seem not to make so much of a fuss.
Again, many people have family on either side of the border, setting up a great wall would likely upset them too. After all, why should the Frenchman be able to visit his uncle in Finland without having to show his passport, but the lady from Manchester should have to go through strict border controls to visit her granny in Glasgow?
As far as some of the Better Together arguments go, this is by far the weakest. A border in the sense of checkpoints, searches, papers, and questioning between Scotland and rUK really is quite out of the question. Guys, you can leave off the frantic searches for your passports just now.
#IndyRef Myth Number Two: Busted