How to manage Scotland's borders

What will happen at Scotland's borders?

Will there be a hard border after independence?

First of all, there is no such thing as a hard border and there is no such thing as a soft border. All borders are varying degrees of 'hard' and 'soft' depending on who and what is crossing them, how they are crossing them and when they are crossing them. Think of borders as about degrees of friction. At the moment the border between Scotland and England doesn't have much friction at all (the laws changes, some regulations alter, but not much more than that). After independence that border will generate more friction, so the question is how to minimise it.

So will there be border checks?

A 'border check' is about identifying whether goods or people comply with rule changes at either side of a border. If Scotland has different rules for the regulation of products or different customs arrangements (let's say we wanted to regulate pesticides differently than the UK or join a European customs union) then making sure that imports meet those rules will require checks. Remember, even when Britain was a member of the European Union people and goods would arrive through borders from outside the EU and they all had to be checked.

Do border checks mean queues of lorries at the border?

It isn't right to call them 'border checks'. For goods they are customs checks and for people they are immigration or passport checks. No-one does customs checks at the border – there are stop-off points where checks are done well away from the border and some of them may be at the final destination. For example, it used to be the case that the customs and duty checks for the whisky industry were done at the distilleries where there were permanent customs offices. Generally there is only a sample of goods taken and this is handled with modern technology such as number plate recognition. Much of the regulation of goods is monitored at final destinations. So no, no queues at the border.

What about people?

It is almost certain that both Scotland and the UK will want to negotiate a UK free travel zone and so there is likely to be next to no friction on cross-border travel. Naturally there will be border checks at international ports and airports but on the Scotland-England border there will be 'smart border' arrangements to enable people to move freely.

But won't this mean each country could create a 'back door immigration route' to the other?

It is likely that an independent Scotland would soon have different immigration rules from the rest of the UK. But the political sensitivity about immigration is the right to housing, social security benefits, public services and to work. None of these are border issues and so the UK safeguards on all of these issues will remain in place (for example, the legal right to work monitored by employers). Immigration routes will be at the international ports and those will have a full passport check system.

So how do we go about proper customs checks?

This should be seen as a major opportunity – the UK is currently very lax on customs and the Customs and Excise Service has been run down over many years (in favour of immigration controls). Scotland needs a proper Customs and Excise Service and this will need to be built up. This service serves a number of functions – to make sure taxes and duties are being paid, to prevent smuggling, to make sure product standards are being maintained, to tackle organised crime and to prevent human trafficking. Building this service will mean a series of specialised offices across the country, hiring and training staff and building a fleet of intercept ships to police Scotland's water (working closely with both the police and the Scottish Defence Force). This is the norm around the world and Scotland will simply be catching up with good practice.

Author or Creator
Common Weal