UK split likely to mean border checks admits FM

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon: why not Scotland?

Nicola Sturgeon today conceded there would likely be checks on goods at the border if an independent Scotland was re-admitted to the European Union.

The First Minister and SNP leader’s admission came as she kickstarted what she believes will a journey to independence.

Delivering the first in a series of papers, Building A New Scotland, Ms Sturgeon said the full powers of a separate state would increase Scotland’s potential and “put the levers of change in the hands of the Scottish people and the governments they vote for.”

The documents, to be released over the coming months, form a prospectus for independence and will address a range of issues such as currency and defence ahead of plans for a referendum before the end of 2023.

The First paper states how 10 small nations had outperformed the UK and serve as an example of what an independent Scotland could achieve.

During a media briefing at Bute House in Edinburgh she said these countries – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland – have significantly more economic policy autonomy and a much greater ability to tailor policies to their own specific circumstances.

“All these countries are wealthier than the UK and all are independent,” she said. “So, why not Scotland?”

But she conceded that independence “does not guarantee a better future”, nor did it mean that Scotland would become a one-party state”.

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She also accepted that should an independent Scotland rejoin the EU it would mean a hard border for goods between Scotland and England.

“I will be frank. I’ve said very clearly, there will be customs and regulatory issues on trade if we are in the single market.

“I think the benefits of being in the single market outweigh the challenges.”

However, critics say this could potentially create similar problems that have arisen over Northern Ireland.

Ms Sturgeon said she would pursue a second referendum even without Westminster’s approval, but insisted it would be lawful, echoing comments made to a business forum on Monday when she said that any choice on independence “must be well-informed and by a process that is legal and beyond reproach”.

Downing Street today restated its opposition to another vote and it is generally held by legal experts that a ballot without agreement of the UK government would not be accepted as binding. Some observers believe the matter will be decided in the courts.

She criticised the UK government for holding Scotland back, and particularly for the decision to withdraw from the European Union.

“Brexit has ripped us out of the EU and the single market against our will with massive damage to trade, living standards and public services,” she said.

She described Boris Johnson as having “no democratic authority in Scotland and no moral authority anywhere in the UK”.

Responding to the presentation, Struan Stevenson, chief executive of the pro-union organisation Scottish Business UK, said:  “If it’s yet another national conversation on breaking up the UK that the First Minister wants, then she shouldn’t be surprised if Scottish business ignores her calls. 

“The papers published today mark a further desperate attempt to reignite a debate that was soundly lost by the SNP in 2014 and which businesses don’t want repeated now – especially in the teeth of a bumpy pandemic recovery marked by here-and-now pressures like rising inflation and supply chain disruption. 

“So many of the points it makes come across as reheats of the long-discredited SNP Growth Commission, explaining why the SNP and Greens prefer other countries to the one businesses actually operate in.

“But for anyone who doesn’t share Scottish ministers’ obsession with talking down our main trading partners using cherry-picked international comparators, the whole exercise comes across as misjudged and tone-deaf in the extreme.” 

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Nicola Sturgeon has no answer to the vital economic questions posed by independence, no plan to deliver a referendum and no intention to listen to the majority of Scots who are opposed to independence.

“Instead, the First Minister wants to feed off Boris Johnson and his Tory Government to fuel her own political ambitions.”

Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross said: “Nicola Sturgeon pushes her obsession by asking: ‘Why not Scotland?’ Let me ask her a better question: Why not improve Scotland now?”

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