Scottish passports planned in sixties, archive reveals

Norman Buchan: raised the issue with the Foreign Office in 1966. Picture: TSPL
Norman Buchan: raised the issue with the Foreign Office in 1966. Picture: TSPL
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THE UK government drew up plans to introduce “Scottish passports” almost half a century ago, Scotland on Sunday has learned.

Last month Alex Salmond unveiled plans to issue Scottish travel documents and create a network of Caledonian embassies around the globe.

However, newly released state documents reveal that Labour ministers seriously considered passports for Scots. Civil servants in the Harold Wilson administration concluded it would be relatively simple and inexpensive to arrange for all passports issued north of the Border to have the Scottish coat of arms.

However, the idea was quietly shelved amid fears foreign authorities would refuse to recognise it and that it could inspire similar ­demands from Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

Government correspondence, which has been opened and placed in the UK National Archives in Kew, shows that MP Norman Buchan raised the issue with the Foreign Office in November 1966. The then Labour member for West Renfrewshire wrote to Foreign Secretary George Brown, stating: “I have ­received a petition signed by several hundred people on the possibility of using the ­Scottish coat of arms on the British passport.”

A memo sent by a Foreign Office official the following month confirms the ­suggestion was considered at the highest levels. It states: “I have discussed this proposal with the Passport Office and with the department of the Home Office dealing with constitutional matters. It seems that the English version of the UK coat of arms has appeared on the passport certainly since 1914 and possibly since 1890.

“The Home Office has invited me to give details of the proposal and of the practical difficulties and expenses that would be involved if we are to accept it.”

Officials then produced a paper on the possibility of passports where the rampant lion of Scotland took precedence over England’s three lions.

It read: “A request has been made to the Foreign Secretary that passports bearing the Scottish coat of arms should be introduced for the use of Scots travelling abroad. There would, in fact be no great expense or difficulty involved in arranging that all passports issued by the passport office at Glasgow should bear the Scottish coat of arms.”

However, the document also contained arguments that the move would generate problems, stating: “It would mean all persons applying to the office would receive ‘Scottish passports’ whether or not the applicant were a Scot.

“A much more serious objection would be recognition by foreign immigration or police authorities. There is a risk that holders of the ‘Scottish passport’ could find themselves being required to obtain visas, at least in the initial stages of the new arrangements.”

It concluded: “A further possible complication is that it could lead to similar requests being made by Northern ­Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.”

Another Home Office report claimed nothing would be gained by agreeing to the plan and the idea of creating distinctive Caledonian documents was officially rejected by the Treaty and Nationality Department. They wrote in February 1967: “Careful consideration has been give to the request by all the departments concerned and the conclusion reached is that the idea is impracticable. The complications arising from introducing an alternative passport are so substantial that the task could not be undertaken.”

The Scottish Government’s recent White Paper set out the SNP’s position on passports if voters say Yes. It states: “In an independent Scotland all British citizens born or habitually resident in Scotland on day one of independence will have the right to acquire a Scottish passport.”