Borders councillors up in arms over suggestions that army patrol border with England

A controversial call for military patrols at the English border to stop visitors from further south flouting Scotland’s tighter coronavirus lockdown rules has been shot down by councillors here.

The England-Scotland border at Carter Bar.
The England-Scotland border at Carter Bar.

That plea comes amid increasing concern that UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s decision to relax movement restrictions south of the border is sparking an influx of visitors to Scotland.

Highland councillor Roddy McCuish fears an upsurge of non-locals flocking to the Highlands and is calling for stricter controls at border crossings such as Scots Dyke, Penton, Carter Bar, Coldstream and Norham to nip any such trend in the bud.

“The Scottish police force don’t have the capacity to stop every car that is crossing the border. I personally would put the army on the border and get them to stop people”, said Mr McCuish, an independent representative for Oban South and the Isles and depute provost of Argyll and Bute.

That suggestion has been ridiculed by councillors representing wards along the border, however.

Hawick and Hermitage councillor Watson McAteer said: “I am very confident that Police Scotland are more than capable of managing any issues relating to breaches of the law relating to the lockdown.

“Asking the army to police the border between Scotland and England is a step too far and a completely unnecessary and irrational suggestion.

“The military role in supporting our health service has been very welcome and an entirely appropriate response from a team of highly skilled professionals.”

Kelso councillor Simon Mountford said: “I’m sure Mr McCuish had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he made these comments.

“Clearly he is fed up with people from the south continuing to visit their second homes in Scotland.

“In reality, of course, no one is seriously suggesting the British army should patrol the border as it is an administrative boundary, not a national frontier.

“People cross the border daily in both directions for a number of perfectly valid reasons and there is no reason why that should not continue.”

Fellow Kelso councillor Tom Weatherston agrees, saying: “I appreciate there have been problems with people ignoring advice and travelling to tourist attractions during lockdown,but to suggest putting the army on the border is just ridiculous.

“When the police tried to take a firmer grip on this problem, they were criticised by some for going over the top.

“I think local issues are better dealt with locally.

“The police have the powers to take the appropriate action, and I am confident they would if the problem got out of hand.”

Euan Robson, another Kelso councillor, added: “I recognise the difficulties caused by people turning up in the Highlands and islands from distant parts – for example, the case of a man apparently arriving from New Zealand. However, these are matters for the police.

“Those proposing the idea of using the army to control entry into Scotland clearly have no idea of the impracticality of patrolling dozens of cross-border routes.

“They also fail to understand the serious impact this would have on the social and economic wellbeing of Borderers and appear not to have thought of the more sinister implications of using the military against the people it serves.”

Jedburgh councillor Sandy Scott said: “I don’t think this is necessary, mainly because I don’t think Scotland should be treated any differently from England.

“Also, the lockdown came about to save the National Health Service, and to my knowledge the Borders General Hospital has decommissioned over 100 beds that were set aside to cope with this pandemic but thankfully have not been used.

“Sadly, we are all vulnerable to Covid-19 until a vaccine has been developed, but at the moment the cure is almost worse than the disease because folks have been denied hip replacement operations, cancer check-ups and dental appointments.”

Fellow Jedburgh councillor Scott Hamilton added: “There is absolutely no need for the army to be drafted in to police the Scottish border.

“This suggestion is ludicrous and, of course, politically motivated.

“As anyone who lives in the south of Scotland knows, many short trips across the Border are made in the course of a normal day. Even in lockdown people need to go to the supermarket or the doctor.

“Putting a military presence on the border when all four corners of Great Britain are slowly easing travel restrictions would be a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“The vast majority of people across the UK are responsibly observing travel restrictions. We shouldn’t make life any more difficult for them.”

Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned those considering cross-border trips in breach of lockdown rules they could face legal action, saying: “If you are coming into Scotland for reasons not covered by essential purposes, then you potentially would be in breach of the law.”