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Free Movement and Scottish Independence

Free Movement and Scottish Independence

For supporters of the No Borders movement, it is an article of faith that borders are an unnecessary interference with human freedom and human nature. Borders by their nature separate people, break up families, hold back economic and cultural development and discriminate between otherwise equal humans on the basis of artificial nationality laws. These fake frontiers and their checkpoints are intended to discourage free movement, marking like scent the territory of a particular set of politicians.

It is an expression of our humanity to seek and explore new places. As the Tilbury incident this month, the 58 deaths in a container at Dover in 2000, the Lampedusa tragedy in 2013 and the hundreds of deaths at sea in the Mediterranean this year all show, by interfering with human nature borders cause deaths, forcing people to take greater risks simply to do as humans do.

Borders are also deprecated by those on the Left inspired by the grand tradition of international socialism. The Left historically sees common struggle and comradeship, not difference and division. Others draw inspiration from the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.

For progressives, collective action is both the means and the end. Unity makes us stronger and achieves more. To put it another way, we humans are better together.

people reaching across a border Images by Carrie on 1000 Blackbirds

Personally, when I think of my own family history and our movement around the United Kingdom, I feel very fortunate we were not confined to one part of it. I might well not be here, I suppose, had Scotland been an independent country when my Liverpudlian father chose to move to St Andrews to study, in the process meeting and falling in love with my Glaswegian mother. The rich and varied culture of the contemporary United Kingdom owes a huge debt to the freedom of movement of the era before the late 1960s when one legally equal citizenship, that of the Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, prevailed across a Commonwealth with no real internal borders. Today, some of us believe that our own country and our neighbours are better and stronger one because of free movement around Europe.

It is puzzling, then, to see so many erstwhile progressives and No Borders campaigners in Scotland campaigning for a new hard border, a new set of immigration rules and a whole new set of nationality laws. As I understand it – which even as a half Scot and proud Brit is imperfectly, shut out as I am even from watching the politicians debate our collective fate – the hope is that these new rules will be liberal ones. ‘No Borders!’ has morphed into ‘Some borders, not as bad as the ones that we had before, at the cost of a brand new border with the rest of what was the United Kingdom and perhaps the EU too!’

From south of the existing soft border it feels as if these campaigners have lost sight of the wood for the trees. A new hard border will be created in the event of a ‘yes’ vote and it is only the whim of two sets of present and future politicians that will permit movement across it. Borders by their nature discourage or even forbid movement: that is what borders are. We can all hope that a new Hadrian’s Wall will not be built by politicians present or future, but any strengthening of the current border will inevitably discourage free movement across it and divides rather than unites.

Some in Scotland hope for removal of the awful spouse and elderly dependent relative rules, for example, so that their fractured families can be made whole. Who can blame them? It is unimaginably awful to be the victim of the policies of our current Coalition Government. But whether characterised as ‘screw you, Jimmy’, ‘I’m alright, Jack’ or merely ‘Dear John’, this is surely the antithesis of a truly progressive, collective approach. It is like the lone prisoner making a break for it rather than working with comrades in solidarity for collective freedom. The rest of us will not only be stuck with the same current rules but face worse rules in the future.

It is painful when one finds oneself in fundamental disagreement with friends one respects and values. But that is what nationalism is all about, in all its guises: division.

Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder and editor of the Free Movement immigration law website.

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