Independent Scotland likely to need border checks, but not passport control, says politics expert

An independent Scotland is unlikely to face a hard border where people are asked for their passports when crossing into England, a leading expert in territorial politics has said.

Nicola McEwen warned, however, of potential barriers to trade, including goods and services, that would naturally follow Scotland re-joining the European Union while the rest of the United Kingdom continues outside the economic union.

This, she said, would likely lead to some form of physical border infrastructure on the Scottish/English border in the event of independence.

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The professor of territorial politics at Edinburgh University, who is also the co-director of the Centre on Constitutional Change, was speaking as part of a new limited series podcast from The Scotsman.

How to be an independent country: Scotland's Choices will look at how other countries have experienced independence and what lessons there might be for Scotland, with the first episode focusing on the question of borders.

Professor McEwen said there was no “parallel example” of a country such as Scotland choosing independence, making it “very difficult to find precedents”.

She said the Common Travel Area, which governs the free movement of British and Irish citizens across the islands of Ireland and Great Britain, would likely be adhered to by a newly independent Scotland.

The first episode of How to be an independent country: Scotland's Choices, is out now

"I do not think we are, under any scenario, looking at passport checks at the Scottish/English border because I fully would anticipate, were Scotland to become an independent country, it would, much like Ireland, be part of the Common Travel Area.

"That entitles British and Irish citizens to move freely throughout that shared area, so I don’t think we would be in the scenario of requiring passport controls at the border.”

Instead, any issues would be “much greater and more apparent” for businesses trading between England and Scotland and moving goods across the border.

This would require “physical infrastructure to check those goods at border crossing points”, Prof McEwen said, with it being key for Scotland after joining the European Union to have some sort of border management in place to help understand and monitor what is coming in and out of the country as an independent nation.

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She said if the EU and UK trading relationship was still based on the Brexit deal, this would necessarily be the trading relationship between the UK and an independent Scotland.

Prof McEwen added: “What we also know about goods is that there’s around about the same if not more, in terms of Scotland’s goods trade, with the EU rather than the rest of the UK.

"Presumably, were Scotland to become a member of the EU that trade in goods should become a little bit easier than it is now within the context of Brexit.

"But, of course, it would become more difficult, more challenging perhaps, in terms of goods trade with the rest of the UK under the terms of that trade at the moment, which is all set out in the Trade and Co-operation agreement.”

She added: “I really don’t anticipate the same kind of checks being required for somebody who is crossing the border to go to Tesco or whatever it happens to be.

"There is an interesting picture that emerges from what the rules say and how they are implemented and crucially how they are enforced.

"Under EU rules there shouldn’t currently be free movement of pets if you are going from Belfast to Dublin or even crossing the border within the border communities, in principle the Common Travel Area is for people, not for pets.

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"But has that stopped people taking their dog for a walk across the border? I think it is highly unlikely and there is no way that sort of thing can be enforced.

"That raises interesting questions about when is a border actually a border. Is it when it is set down in the rules or is it when it is capable of being enforced.”

The first episode of the podcast also explores the experience of Montenegro and its border.

The country, which voted Yes in an independence referendum in 2006 – one of the few countries worldwide to do so – is not part of the EU and has border infrastructure in place between it and its former partner Serbia.

You can hear more about their experience in the first episode of How to be an independent country: Scotland’s Choices, which is available now on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

You can also subscribe to The Scotsman’s weekly political podcast, The Steamie, also available on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.



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