GIVEN that as many as a quarter of Scots claim some form of Irish ancestry and that our country’s very name comes from that of a tribe which invaded Britain from Ireland in the 4th century AD, it should be a no-brainer that Scotland and the two nations of Ireland should have a closer relationship in these uncertain times.
Post-Brexit, with Scotland hope- fully independent, the Republic will be, as now, our closest neighbour in the European Union. Northern Ireland will eventually decide which way it wants to go, but like Scotland, it voted decisively to Remain in the EU.
So it makes complete sense that Scotland should observe all of Ireland, and especially the Republic, as Brexit negotiations take place.
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After all, hopefully we will have negotiations of our own when Scotland becomes independent.
Perhaps the biggest single question that the UK, EU, and both parts of Ireland must decide on is what kind of border will there be on the Emerald Isle in the case of a hard Brexit. There will definitely be a border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, according to Professor Michael Keating of Aberdeen University and director of the Centre on Constitutional Change in Edinburgh.
He told The National: “There is going to be a border in Ireland again if the UK is out of the single market and Ireland is still in the EU as it will be.
“The UK Government keeps on saying ‘we are not returning’ to the border of the past, there will be no hard border. They are trying to avoid having a wall there, or something else you have to pass through, and there’s no doubt you don’t need to have a physical border as that would be provocative to dissident Republicans and the like.
“But logic dictates there will be some kind of a border because there will be so many different regulations on either side, and customs duties will have to be paid as we are coming out of the customs union.
“There are various ways you can make a border look less obtrusive but there will have to be one of some sort, and the UK Government has yet to say a word on how it is going to achieve the frictionless border it has talked about.”
Keating’s view is shared by Robert Murphy, a former customs official at the Irish tax authority who later worked at the European Commission in Brussels. He said: “For me, there’s no question, there has to be some sort of customs visibility on either side of the border. The idea of having a seamless and frictionless border is lovely, but I do wonder how realistic it is.”
With cross-border trade worth more than €3 billion a year, Ireland’s Economic and Social Research Institute has estimated that Brexit could cut trade flows between Ireland and the UK by as much as a fifth.
There are, of course, many people in Scotland who point out that a larger proportion of our trade is with the rest of the UK, but as yet no-one has explained why that trade will not continue in the event of Scotland becoming independent.
Yes there might have to be tariffs at first, but could the solution for Scotland, and indeed Ireland, not be some kind of trade deal for the whole British Isles? In his draft guidelines for negotiating the UK’s exit, EU President Donald Tusk said “flexible and imaginative solutions” will be needed to avoid a hard border.
That will be true as much for an independent Scotland in the future as it is for Ireland now.