STAND by for border warfare this weekend – though, despite the expected exodus of Old Firm fans to Blackpool, Scots won’t be at the front line.

No, it’s the Welsh, the quietest of our Celtic cousins, who’ve flexed their devolved muscles over Covid-19 and announced they’ll have legislation ready by Friday to let their police close the border with England on public health grounds. And Boris Johnson’s mild sabre-rattling couldn’t stop them.

Astonishingly, despite the drama of this “unilateral” action by a Unionist First Minister, and the significance of Drakeford’s actions as a precedent for Scotland, there was precious little media coverage in the run-up to yesterday’s statement in the Senedd.

Compare and contrast.

In July, when Nicola Sturgeon was only considering quarantine at the Scottish Border for travellers from England, her words were greeted by the Unionist press as signs of an imminent Apocalypse and the End of Orderly Life As We Know It. Scotland’s First Minister was accused of “stoking division” “playing dog-whistle politics” and “pushing a nationalist agenda”. And that’s the printable stuff.

But now, just three months later, when the Welsh FM has boldly gone further and announced an imminent border travel ban, there’s hardly been an outcry or actually a dicky bird in the UK media despite clear signs of Welsh intent. Why the lack of interest? You don’t have to be a mad conspiracy theorist to conclude that it’s one rule for “rule-breaking” Unionist Mark another for independence-supporting Nicola.

Of course, Boris and his entourage might have believed the Scottish FM would carry out her “threat”, but fully expected Drakeford to sound off before pulling his punches and deciding to knuckle down.

But that was never going to happen.

Effectively, Wales became England’s first colony in 1283, and was formally annexed in the

mid-1500s, which means that unlike Scotland, it had no distinctive institutional identity for centuries, bobbing along like a Brythonic after-thought in legislation designed for “England and Wales”.

That changed with devolution, though a weaker Yes vote in 1999 meant the Welsh got a weaker set of powers and an assembly (Senedd) not a parliament. The presence of mouthier, more restive Big Sister Scotland has been to Wales’s advantage, though. The more powers Scotland wrested from London, the more were rolled out to Wales as well. And of course, pressure from Plaid Cymru has been instrumental Originally, the party didn’t support independence, just greater autonomy for the “Principality” (imagine how you’d feel if Prince Charles was also the Prince of Scotland).

But the policy changed and an explicit campaign for Welsh independence has emerged, culminating in polls showing a third of voters now back independence, the recent publication of a roadmap towards a referendum by Plaid Cymru and the call for a border lockdown by its leader Adam Price.

Essentially, having gone this far, this publicly and with Plaid Cymru snapping at his heels Drakeford could not have backed down over the border issue, without a massive loss of credibility.

And the situation has become increasingly urgent, as the Welsh prepare for a perfect storm this weekend.

Covid hotspot Liverpool is just 20 miles from the Welsh border, and though the city entered tough top-tier lockdown restrictions yesterday, the behaviour of inhabitants partying online – “shameful” according to its despairing mayor – doesn’t suggest there’ll be total compliance with voluntary travel restrictions when mid-term holidays start in a few days’ time.

It’s become clear Drakeford is guarding himself against accusations of anti-English racism and reflecting the reality of hotspots across the whole UK by applying the ban to all of Northern Ireland and the Scottish central belt as well as England’s tier two and three areas. But given the latter’s proximity to Wales’s 160 mile-long border, it’s pretty obvious where most of the “unwelcome” travellers probably live.

Sturgeon says she fully supports Mark Drakeford’s move and has joined him in pressing Boris for UK-wide travel restrictions that carry legal force.

That’s why, earlier this week, the Welsh FM asked the Prime Minister to change the law and institute formal bans on travel from Covid hotspots so police would be able to turn visitors away at the Welsh border, protecting Welsh communities where infection rates are generally much lower.

But Boris said no. Twice.

APPARENTLY, advice for people in Merseyside not to travel is good enough, the guidance is “very clear” and the Tory leader invoked the same weary old “no border anyway” argument he first used against Sturgeon three months ago.

Drakeford apparently made one last plea during this week’s Cobra meeting, but was again rebuffed. Price said he was “livid” at Johnson’s response, and tweeted: “Begging letters to Tory prime ministers have never really worked for Wales. It’s time to stop waiting on Westminster and take action ourselves instead.”


Well, now the Welsh have called Boris’s bluff and legislation to allow travel restrictions at the Welsh border will be applied by the end of this week.

Of course, this firm action is possible precisely because no-one can reasonably accuse Drakeford of “separatist intent” – his border ban will be tholed by opponents of “nationalism” on the grounds of “public health”.

If Scotland had been forced to act in the same way, using the same devolved powers for precisely the same public health reasons, our First Minister would have been pilloried by every media outlet for playing politics during a pandemic.

The double standards are extraordinary even by UK standards.

No wonder there’s been so little coverage of the Welsh border stand-off. It inconveniently proves that all the fury directed at our First Minister in July was politically motivated and completely contrived.

So, will all hell now be let loose upon the Welsh FM, or will the British Government try to draw a polite veil over his rebellious act and suggest his travel ban is “nae a biggie”?

Much depends on the way developments in Wales fit into the English picture. Drakeford’s also planning a total, Wales-wide national “circuit-breaking” lockdown so the ability to control Welsh borders may be part of this larger strategy, endorsed on Tuesday by Sage scientists and fulsomely backed by Labour leader Keir Starmer. Having insisted “there are no borders” in the UK, and opposed Starmer’s new Covid policy, Boris has backed himself into a corner – he cannot be seen to “give in” to either Labour politician.

So there may not be a shoot-out at Llandrindod Wells. But whether Boris tries to ignore the Senedd decision and the UK media inexplicably continues to find it boring and irrelevant, the voting public in Wales and Scotland has seen some important developments. Firstly, the leader of a devolved government has prevailed over the Prime Minister and the supposed might of Whitehall.

Secondly, national borders really do exist within the UK – whatever Boris thinks. Finally, the Welsh have created an enormous political precedent for other nations in the determination to protect their own people using devolved powers.

Might there be a lesson in there for Scotland?

Do you think?