September 18 will be a crucial day for everyone in Scotland. That’s the day when we get to decide the future of our country.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime, irreversible decision – and it’s in your hands. This will be a vote like no other. It’s not a general election, nor is it a referendum on the track records of either the government in Westminster or the one in Holyrood.
Becoming an independent country and leaving the UK – which has seen our nation flourish and grow – is not a decision to be taken lightly.
I believe all voters – whether they intend to vote Yes or No, or have yet to decide – should be able to make an informed choice. That’s why we have responded to demands for information by sending a booklet to every household in Scotland to set out the facts.
While this is a decision which affects everyone who lives in Scotland, it’s undoubtedly true that people in the Borders would feel many of the effects almost immediately.
If Scotland were to leave the UK there would be an international border created between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK. Unless Scotland manages to negotiate an opt-out from the European borderless travel area (the Schengen area), which covers most EU countries, but not the UK and Ireland, border controls would be required by law. The prospect of queues and passport checks is not a welcome one, but it would be a real possibility.
If an independent Scotland does get an opt-out from Schengen, it might be possible to join a Common Travel Area (CTA) with the UK and Ireland. This exists today and means that passports are not needed for travel between those countries.
But that is only possible if CTA members keep very similar immigration policies, as the UK and Ireland do – and the Scottish Government says that this would not be the case as its policy is to increase immigration in an independent Scotland. There could be passport-free travel, or there could be different immigration policies – but there could not be both.
The extra bureaucracy caused by a border would hinder businesses which are currently able to sell goods and services on both sides of the border without restriction. And it will potentially mean less choice – for healthcare or education, for instance – for local residents.
Another obvious consideration is currency. With a currency union ruled out, it’s uncertain what currency an independent Scotland would use. But what is certain is that if you live near the border you’re likely to find yourself facing a different situation when you want to spend money on the other side of it.
Prices may well rise in an independent Scotland because independent experts predict higher interest rates and costs which will have to be passed on to shoppers – which could mean people in the Borders paying more for their mortgages, loans and insurance than their friends and family just over the border.
However, all this is unnecessary. There is a way to ensure that we don’t face these problems – and that’s to vote to stay in the UK family. Personally, I don’t believe it makes sense to make it more difficult for businesses to flourish and create jobs, or to introduce unnecessary hurdles into people’s lives.
But whatever you believe, I’d ask you to consider the consequences carefully and make sure you’re in the know before you vote.