THERE have been reports concerning the possible deployment of Scottish police personnel in Northern Ireland to cope with civil unrest in the light of a failure by the British government to secure the continuation of an open border in Ireland.

Alarmed at the implications of such a move for Irish-Scottish relations, I wrote to the Minister for Justice and to my MSP for clarification. The former did not reply himself but in due course I received a soothing reply of startling complacency from a “strategy and collaboration officer”, assuring me that this is entirely a matter for the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, not the Scottish Government.

Apparently, such assistance was provided during the G8 summit in 2013. Such an event was not likely to have been of great concern to either side in Irish politics as a matter of division. The border is a different matter.

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I have heard nothing from my MSP, someone who usually replies promptly to an enquiry.

I find this proposal and the secrecy that seems to surround it a cause for concern. The possible problem in Ireland would not be an ordinary “operational” matter for the Chief Constable of Police Scotland and the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. It would be a highly political matter, arising directly from the abject failure of the British government to ensure the continuation of an open border.

In the event of any disturbance, the police involved would be seen as taking sides. This could be by either side in Irish politics. Either way it would be a disaster for both present and future relations between Scotland and Ireland and would certainly raise tensions in both countries. We must not be seen to be at Mrs May’s beck and call.

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It has again to be mentioned that the people of Northern Ireland voted by 56% to 44% in favour of remaining in the EU, a fact ignored by Mrs May and her cohorts in their endless wittering that the “British people voted to leave”. Now on top of that snub, Irish people on both sides of the border and of all political opinions have to contemplate the possible loss of their open border and have had to listen to English Tories proposing “technical solutions” (that do not as yet exist) and suggesting “alternative arrangements” (that are mostly unspecified and, in any case, will not be acceptable to the EU). Sir Graham Brady, Mr Rees-Mogg and other English politicians are clearly prepared to put the Irish border at risk if Tory policies require it.

Borders are about people, and perhaps the following little story might help them to see that more clearly. It’s a Saturday in 1979 and a very ordinary single-decker bus rolls through the countryside en route from Sligo to Derry. It carries a very ordinary mix of passengers – teenagers going to hit the boutiques, two families with children, senior citizens looking forward to seeing their grandchildren, housewives, and this writer. At the border a British soldier flags the bus down and three of his colleagues board it. One covers the passengers with his gun at the ready while two work their way through the bus, inspecting all the seats in turn to see what may be in the cushions or underneath.

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Nothing is found, they depart and the bus is waved on its way into the city. It has taken about 15 boring minutes, nothing has happened and yet in their hearts all these people knew that at any moment something horrible could happen. It has been a thoroughly unpleasant experience, almost unthinkable now, when often a pillar box of a different colour is the only sign that your bus or train has crossed the border.

No-one could want to see that kind of thing happen again, no matter how marvellous the technology. As Ms McDonald of Sinn Fein said on Andrew Marr’s programme on Sunday, “anyone gambling with peace in Ireland is acting recklessly”. Yet if it comes to a reckless “no deal” there could be trouble and then there would be calls (probably from these same Tories) for strong measures to deal with it. These would include an increased police presence.

Scotland must avoid being drawn into that bourach. We must be ready to tell Mrs May to look elsewhere for help. We do not want the shame of closing the Irish border to be on Scotland and its people.

Brian Patton
Foulden, Berwickshire