Alex Massie

Theresa May’s grubby little warning: an independent Scotland will be out in the cold

Theresa May's grubby little warning: an independent Scotland will be out in the cold
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It is a good thing that government ministers come to Scotland sometimes. It is a bad thing that they insist on opening their mouths when they do. Earlier this year we endured the spectacle of Philip Hammond making an arse of himself; today it has been Theresa May's turn to make one wish cabinet ministers would, just occasionally, contemplate the virtue of silence.

The Home Secretary was in Edinburgh to warn that an independent Scotland would be a dangerous place. It would, in fact, be left out in the cold. It would not, you see, be part of the English-speaking-world's Five Eyes intelligence-poolling network. The UK, United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand will continue to share information. Little Caledonia will be left on the outside, all forlorn, friendless and at risk. She might eventually be admitted to the club but there'd be no guarantees about this.

As May put it:

'If Scotland were a separate state, I would expect there to be co-operation between the UK and Scotland, but that would be different from the arrangements we have today. Those arrangements, crucially, is that natural working together, that automatic access to capabilities [which] would not necessary be there in the future were it a separate state.'

Well, sure. On one level this is little more than a statement of the bleeding obvious. Things will change after independence. Crivvens! But on another level it is pitiful stuff that nudges folk a notch closer to voting Yes in a spirit of To hell with you.

May was north of the border to brief the natives on the contents of a new Home Office 'report' on the potential consequences of independence. I was surprised to discover that this Whitehall paper concluded that independence would be a high-risk adventure that might leave Scotland more exposed to international nasties and other security threats than she is at present. Best to think again, lads.

What is the point of this stuff? Who does Theresa May think she is persuading? Vote No to remain beneath the GCHQ umbrella! It's pitiful stuff, frankly. How does anyone manage to live without the protections afforded by the British security services? I mean, even the Belgians. Come on.

And, of course, lurking in the background is the implication that if, heaven forbid, bombs were to start going off then, hey ho Jocko, it would be your own fault for voting for independence. What's more, don't you know, independence might make it more likely Scotland would be targeted. Another example of soft-touch Scotia, I suppose.

This is drivel. Worse than that it is exasperating drivel. Who, I ask again, is it supposed to persuade? The poor sap who might vote Yes but can be security-theatred into voting No? How depressing, how insulting. It's a rotten way to campaign and something that should be unworthy of the Home Secretary.

Apart from anything else and though of course some arrangements would change it would plainly be in everyone's interests for there to be an exceptionally close security relationship between the two countries.

Of course Whitehall wants us to believe that there are countless technical and procedural difficulties inherent in unwinding a 300 year old Union. And indeed there are. Some of those - on currency, pensions and other matters - really are quite important and really do need some explanation before voters trudge to the polls next September. Others, however, do not.

They are matters that can be worked out if and when they ever actually need to be worked out. The precise nature of an independent Scotland's intelligence service is one of those bother-with-it-later issues. Ditto its relationship with allied intelligence services. Or are we to assume that everyone is too stupid to manage to organise these things in some tolerably satisfactory manner?

But, of course, they can be so arranged. For instance, Severin Carrell reports that the Home Office report warns that:

[A] new Scottish border would stop Scottish and UK police from "hot pursuit" of criminals fleeing over the border. Cross-border arrest and search warrants would be slower and more bureaucratic, the report said.

Sounds bad doesn't it? Well it's a shame no-one at the Home Office appears to know anything about the history of the border. If they did they would have known that last time there was a "real" border between England and Scotland there were clear rules established to deal with the problems caused by cross-border crime.

That is to say, no-one in the Home Office appears to know anything about the Hot Trod.  The Hot Trod was a 'strictly legal, almost a hallowed process' wrote George Macdonald Fraser in The Steel Bonnets, his magnificent survey of the Border Reivers:

It enshrined the right to recover one's property by force, and in practice to deal with the thieves out of hand. A trod might lawfully be made at any time within six days after the offence; it is was followed immediately it was a hot trod, otherwise it was known as a cold trod. In either case it was governed by strict rules; a careful line was drawn, under Border law, between a trod and a reprisal raid.

[…] If the trod crossed the Border, there were well-established ruled to ensure that it was seen for what it was, a legal pursuit, and to assist it. The 1563 agreement between England and Scotland speaks of 'lawful Trodd with Horn and Hound, with Hue and Cry and all other accustomed manner of fresh pursuit"; according to Scott, this obliged the pursuer to carry a lighted turf on his lance-point, as evidence of open and peaceful intentions. He was also bound to announce his trod to the first person he met across the Border, or at the first village, and to seek assistance. There seems to have been an obligation to give this assistance when it was asked for; certainly impeding a trod was a grace offence, punishable at least by making the impeder liable for the goods stolen. In England in the 1550s failure to follow a trod was punishable by death; later this penalty was reduced to seven days' imprisonment, plus a fine of3s 4d.

And this at a time when the frontier was the closest thing Britain has ever had to the Wild West. If some form of cross-border co-operation and policing (however inadequate) could be organised then I fancy it might just be possible to do it again. Instead we get this kind of blackmail from the Home Secretary. I don't suppose she knows that's a term originating on the Anglo-Scottish border either.

(Mind you: if the Borderland could somehow revert to being in large part beyond the writ or control of London and Edinburgh alike that would be even better.)

Anyway, the point is that most of this is a non-issue and it is, or should be, unworthy of the Home Secretary to imply that Scots shouldn't vote for independence because if they do they increase the risk they'll be blown up by lunatic terrorists who would have been apprehended if only Scotland had been wise enough to remain part of the United Kingdom. This sort of thing, for once, really does merit the scaremongering label.