An Independent Scotland’s borders and Customs: Principles and Approaches

Primary Author or Creator:
Bill Austin
Additional Author(s) / Creators
Peter Henderson
Common Weal
Alternative Published Date
Type of Resource:
Policy Paper
Fast Facts

Independent Scotland's Borders and Customs.

Customs revenue is the key issue of borders, not immigration and movement of people.

More details

This report sets out what we believe to be an approach to an independent Scotland’s Customs and borders that will make a major contribution to securing Scotland’s national sovereignty and protecting society. We believe this approach to be far superior to that of the UK Government currently, which over-emphasises the issue of immigration and de-emphasises the issue of Customs revenues collection. This approach only works to the advantage of those who seek to trade illegally at the disadvantage of the public purse, which loses billions each year in uncollected indirect taxes, an often under-estimated and misunderstood aspect of government revenue. We believe an independent Scotland could have a far smaller tax gap than the UK currently has through taking Customs revenues collection seriously.

― Customs is a key governmental activity in protecting the revenue and security of any state. Customs work in Scotland is likely to become more important with significant year-on-year increases in travel and freight to the year 2050 predicted.

― Since the merger of HM Customs & Excise and Inland Revenue into HMRC in 2005, Customs work has been systematically degraded in the UK, as immigration has been over-prioritised.

― A £40Bn loss of potential UK tax revenue in the ‘shadow economy’ can partly be explained through the undermining of Customs work, as very few checks are carried out to ensure tax compliance on the movement of goods and inland taxes like VAT.

― In Scotland, the lack of Customs ‘Cutters’ on the coast or a significant presence of officers in port towns means major smuggling routes are often unchallenged. This has been proven to endanger society.

― A ‘smart borders’ approach prioritises borders operations at the most convenient and efficient place, rather than at the border point itself. A system of inland Customs controls based on Inland Clearance Depots, at easy access points for cargo, would be both effective and efficient. 90% of French Customs operations work in this way.

― A Scottish Customs & Excise Division should be established as part of Revenue Scotland. This should have officers strategically located across the country, with a substantial maritime presence. A draft organisation for this division suggests a fully effective team would have 800 officers – each are capable of bringing in as much as 100 times their salary in tax revenue. A Customs Division of this kind could be responsible for over half of Scottish revenue collection.

Independent Scotland's borders and customs.

― Scotland should remain part of the UK Common Travel Area, established in 1923 and containing states and dominions which are currently inside and outside the EU (Republic of Ireland and the UK being inside; Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney being outside).

― Inside the UK Common Travel Area, there is no reason why the Scottish-English border could not have a similar relationship to the Norway-Sweden border: in that case, no hard immigration controls on the border exist as both are part of Schengen, but because Norway is outside the EU and Sweden is inside they both operate separate Customs operations which work smoothly and effectively.

― If the rest of UK decided to establish a ‘hard border’ it would be a decision without precedent and would cause major harm to their own citizenry and economy, but if they were to decide to do so it would have to be set up on the rest of UK side of the border and all costs would therefore fall on the rest of UK. This is highly unlikely however, as the attitude of the new Brexit Secretary David Davis MP towards the Republic of Ireland-Northern Ireland border indicates it is in the interests of everyone to avoid a hard border.

― Customs operations should be central to an independent Scotland’s defence strategy through the close co-ordination of Customs, Defence and policing services, especially in coastal and maritime territory where smuggling is a serious security threat for Scotland. A National Defence Academy, similar to that in Denmark, should be established as a headquarters for this co-ordination between services and to support educational development.