ALISTER Jack’s claim that the Scottish Border is “little more than a sign” indicates he needs to read up on the history of the country he represents, according to a leading historian.

Professor Sir Tom Devine criticised the “nonsense” from the Scottish Secretary, who made the claim in an essay for the conservative Centre for Policy Studies.

It is part of a new collection of essays, titled “Strength in Union: The Case for the United Kingdom” and edited by Conservative MP Andrew Bowie (below), which sees a series of senior Tories and ministers take turns promoting the UK and dismissing calls for independence.

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The figures making their calls for the UK to stay together include former prime minister Theresa May, ex-Tory leader William Hague and Welsh Tory chief Andrew RT Davies.

In his contribution to the publication, Scottish Secretary Jack downplays the autonomy of Scotland. “I am no fan of the ‘four nations’ expression, for the Union gives us one great nation,” he tells readers shortly into the essay.

Later, the Dumfries and Galloway MP expresses his concern over what could happen to the Scottish Border in the event of independence.

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“I live close to the Scotland/England border and it’s little more than a sign that people pass daily, with no thought of moving from one country to another,” he writes.

“Under the SNP, a hard border would be required with all the associated paperwork, an impediment to business and individuals. With more that unites us than divides us as people, that would be a heartbreaking situation and one most Britons want to prevent.”

Jack’s comments come over a year after Prime Minister Boris Johnson sparked controversy by stating there is “no such thing as a border between Scotland and England”.

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Prominent historian and author Devine described Jack’s depiction of the Border as “nonsensical historically”.

“That comment is … beyond belief from an individual who is the Secretary of Scotland but apparently has no real awareness of the history of the country he is involved in helping to govern,” he told The National.

Devine explained that up until 1707 England and Scotland were separated by a border with tariff barriers and separate customs arrangements – but even after that it remained significant, with Scotland retaining its own legal system and church.

He went on: “Since 1999 the border once again marks the boundary between two different jurisdictions in relation to crucial aspects of domestic policy and private/criminal law.

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“It is clear that that Mr Jack should start reading some Scottish history so he can develop a better understanding of the country for which he has some responsibility for governance.”

SNP MSP Emma Harper (below), who represents the South Scotland region at Holyrood, pointed out other flaws in Jack's argument.

"It's surprising to hear Alister Jack talking up the benefits of frictionless travel when he and his Tory colleagues have been so consumed by delivering Brexit in the middle of a global pandemic – and particularly when we see the shocking fuel, food and labour shortages currently being caused by their disastrous Brexit crusade," she told The National.

"I live close to the Border too. But, ultimately the only way to keep Scotland safe from the devastating impact of Westminster control and the long-term damage of Brexit is for Scotland to become a normal independent country." 

The National:

Jack also spoke at today’s Conservative conference, focusing on the future of transport in the UK. He accused the Scottish Government of “irresponsible nationalism” for not getting involved with Sir Peter Hendy’s Union Connectivity Review.

He told the Manchester conference: “It’s an incredibly important document to be published shortly.

“I’d say on a personal note I’m very dismayed the Scottish Government has not engaged in the Union connectivity review.

“The Transport Secretary, Michael Matheson, told his civil servants not to give Sir Peter any data or to engage with him whatsoever, which to me is irresponsible nationalism.

“It’s putting their desire for separation, and not to be part of the United Kingdom, ahead of people’s livelihoods, ahead of jobs.”

The Scottish Government has previously argued transport is devolved to Holyrood and asked the Conservatives to respect this rather than engage in a “power grab”.