SHOULD THE BORDER BE CLOSED?

Should Nicola close the Border to non commercial traffic.

IS an argument that is raging across the country. Has she the power to do it? What would justify it? What would be the economic cost?

Good questions, let’s try and answer them. I will take the easiest first. I think there would be overwhelming public support for such a move if it could be demonstrated that Covid 19 was on the rise again in England and the current infection rates were much higher than in Scotland. This would create a clear and present danger to Scots, particularly in the rural tourist areas where local health facilities would be quickly overwhelmed by a deluge of incoming infected tourists. In such circumstances I think the public would be right to demand Government action to end that risk. There would be a big cost in doing so but I will deal with that later.

Does Scotland have the powers to close the border.? The answer to that is currently no, voting in support of Better Together in 2014 made sure of that, BUT I think it would be very difficult for London, if the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of such a move, that Westminster would not grant temporary powers to do so. If they do refuse they hand the SNP an excellent example of why Independence is needed. Also a refusal would be like passing a death sentence on the Tories in Scotland who would then be justifiably blamed for every subsequent infection and death in Scotland. An impossible political position. Boris doesn’t like Jackson Carlaw, but, he wouldn’t do that to him, would he?

He might, Boris only thinks of Boris, so Scotland had better have a back up plan. What could that be? Well the best would probably be using travel restrictions as the tool to effectively close the border using powers we do have that limits the distance people can drive away from their home during the Covid 19 crisis. Presuming the levels in Scotland remain very low, this driving range could be extended from five miles, to twenty or thirty, even more, freeing up travel in low risk Scotland, but, making it a punishable offence for those crossing the border and planning to visit areas well away from the immediate border area itself. Big fines would prove highly effective as would multiple fines for repeat offenders, allowing for a day between offences. No quicker way of spoiling the holiday than all your spending money being swallowed up paying fines for Covid related traffic offences. I believe this was the tactic used in Wales which effectively closed the border there.

We should, however, be very aware of the huge cost to many businesses in the travel, tourism and hospitality areas of our economy. It’s not just lost revenues, it’s huge numbers of jobs. Hospitality is a huge employer in Scotland. You can be sure the Chancellor will be doing nothing to lessen the blow of your job not being there because the Scots have effectively closed the border.

Knowing human nature, we might also be storing up future resentment down South that could roll into subsequent years for tourism, long after the virus has passed. So it’s no easy decision. Everyone thinks they are well, until their not!

The best solution to this is for the rest of the UK to get their rates of infection down to those in line with Scotland. Then the problem is solved and there would be no justification or need to close the border. Unfortunately, that seems a big ask. While the numbers of newly infected are falling they are still, by many multiples, much higher than in Scotland

. There is also a great fear that England is opening up too quickly and the chances of a serious spike are high, particularly in the major cities due to over population, poor housing conditions and crowded transport. Today’s figures highlight the problem. In Scotland we had 12 new infections today. Allowing for population equalization, Scotland being 8.2% of the uk population that would give you an expected figure of 146 new infections in the UK if the rates were mirroring Scotland. Instead the UK figures were 1147 new infections on the 23rd June almost EIGHT TIMES THE RATE IN SCOTLAND. If, as expected the more lax regulations in England result in the rate of infection Increasing further in England then surely everyone must recognise it would be folly to ignore the risks of allowing tourists from these areas to enter our country unintentionally infecting our population.

So hard choices are ahead. Despite attempts by Scotland’s troubled Tories the Covid 19 crisis has largely avoided Party politics. Nicola has been an outstanding leader throughout this crisis and has attracted much goodwill and appreciation from people of all differing political loyalties for the enormous effort and commitment she has displayed. I often think how different it might have been if Jackson Carlaw has been the First Minister and Scotland’s response during the crisis would have been dictated by London. Folk might like to consider that when determining our future constitutional position. I can confidently forecast the name “Better Together” is a dead duck and will never be heard of again from Unionists. It has become a true hostage to fortune.

So this crisis is far from over, hard decisions are still to be made, complicated by the clash of priorities, so evident in the different approaches being taken by Holyrood and Westminster, Holyrood led by health and safety concerns, Westminster’s increasingly driven by economic considerations and an unspoken willingness to return to a herd immunity mentality if that is what is needed to get the economy moving again. They will not shrink from removing all financial support if people display a reluctance to go back to work, even if that reluctance is safety based. They have halved social distancing for the same reason, economics trumps health with the Tories.

The bad news for all politicians, north or south of the border is that a huge, huge job is going to be required to get all four countries of the UK into recovery mode. Things have changed and the solutions can’t  be piecemeal, patch up sticking plasters to cover the wounds. Major surgery is required. Can they do it? Even the optimist in me doubts it. I see very little vision or ambition there but I do live in hope and I would be delighted to be surprised.

My view? As the author, I am duty bound to provide it. If the infection rates in England are rising again and the current infection rates are already over six times higher than Scotland then the border, through whatever means, should be closed. Anything else is murder.

We must also remember what is at risk, our low levels of infection offer the prospect of a normal return to work, our schools going back in August at near normal levels. All that will be destroyed if the numbers of infections start to spike again. So, it might be costly to close the border, but, an awful lot more could be at risk if we don’t and then import large spikes in the number of new cases. Then everything we have done to this point will be lost and we will be back in lockdown for who knows how long or going along with England’s herd immunity route causing many thousands of lives to be lost.

There are no easy choices, who wants to be First Minister?

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