There is a lot of nonsense that is spoken of regarding what an independent Scotland would involve – financial meltdown, mass emigration and never entering a World Cup again. As if we need to be independent for one of those harbingers of doom to come true.

Amidst the excellent debate in the epic comments on James’ recent post, the common line of ‘borders at Gretna’ was raised, fast becoming Scottish independence’s very own version of Godwin’s Law. (that is, the longer an online conversation discusses Scottish independence, the probablility that someone mentioning passport controls at Gretna approaches 1).

I had always considered this to be a ridiculous notion. Having to get your passport out when driving between Scotland and England seems fanciful when no such border exists between Ireland and the UK, not to mention France and Spain, Holland and France and Denmark and Sweden (though that last one is set to change). However, when leaving a comment on that recent article, I realised that passport controls between Scotland and rUK* is not so ridiculous after all.

Picturing an independent Scotland, the first thing that it will need to work hard on is its economy. I do not imagine there will be a significant withdrawal of business from a new Scotland and, even if there was, new entrants to the market would quickly fill the gap and that may not necessarily be a bad thing for a new nation finding its identity. However, there will always be extra costs for a young country as new processes get set up and institutions are created from scratch. Furthermore, a strong dose of confidence would be useful to inject at such an uncertain time so a visible growth in the Scottish economy would be welcome.

The two key ways to achieve such growth and confidence are exports and tourism; two areas in which Scotland is particularly blessed. On tourism, a new Scotland would seek to sell all its key characteristics; the golf, the whisky, the rolling hills, the ceilidhs. Ah, I’m getting all misty-eyed just typing it. However, no scone would be left unturned as this new country tried to ingratiate itself to its new European neighbours so it’s not out of the question for Scotland to opt to enter the Schengen agreement which would mean that citizens from EU countries that are also in this agreement would not need their passports to travel to Scotland. A subtly powerful way to entreat tourists to come visit and spend their money. Indeed, Scotland may even have no choice in the matter as it has been suggested that new joiners to the EU (of which I would personally assume that Scotland as the secession state would be and rUK would not) must join this Schengen agreement.

Either way, the rest of the UK would have a problem if Scotland were to enter Schengen.

Per Wikipedia:

In 1985 five member states of the then European Economic Community signed the Schengen Agreement on the gradual dropping of border controls between their respective countries. This treaty and its implementation convention of 1990 would pave the way for the creation of the Schengen Area. Although not implemented until 1995, two years later during the Amsterdam Intergovernmental Conference, all European Union member states except the United Kingdom and Ireland, plus two non-member states Norway and Iceland, had signed the Schengen Agreement. During those negotiations, which led to Amsterdam Treaty and the incorporation of Schengen into the main body of European Union law, Britain and Ireland obtained an opt-out affirming their right to maintain systematic passport and immigration controls at their frontiers. If the United Kingdom or Ireland were to join Schengen, the Common Travel Area would come to an end. If one were to join without the other, the joining country would have to exercise border controls vis-Ã -vis the other thus ending the zone. If both were to join all the functions of the area would be subsumed into the Schengen provisions and the Area would cease to have any separate existence.

I can’t imagine the largely UKIP-sympathetic, anti-immigration electorate of rUK ever agreeing to open, passport-free borders; it is barely tolerable for them to be a part of the EU as it is. In Scotland, that is not the case and, were it to be proven that the income gained from being part of Schengen would exceed the cost of a few passport controls and the hassle when travelling into England, then I can easily imagine this imbalance on the British mainland taking place.

The irony of a border point at Gretna symbolising an end of the Scottish/UK marriage? Don’t bet against it….

* rUK = the rest of the UK once Scotland has left