Updates, commentary, training and advice on immigration and asylum law

Free Movement and Scottish Independence


Older content is locked

A great deal of time and effort goes into producing the information on Free Movement, become a member of Free Movement to get unlimited access to all articles, and much, much more


By becoming a member of Free Movement, you not only support the hard-work that goes into maintaining the website, but get access to premium features;

  • Single login for personal use
  • FREE downloads of Free Movement ebooks
  • Access to all Free Movement blog content
  • Access to all our online training materials
  • Access to our busy forums
  • Downloadable CPD certificates

For supporters of the No Borders movement, it is an article of faith that borders are an unnecessary interference with human freedom and human nature. Borders by their nature separate people, break up families, hold back economic and cultural development and discriminate between otherwise equal humans on the basis of artificial nationality laws. These fake frontiers and their checkpoints are intended to discourage free movement, marking like scent the territory of a particular set of politicians.

It is an expression of our humanity to seek and explore new places. As the Tilbury incident this month, the 58 deaths in a container at Dover in 2000, the Lampedusa tragedy in 2013 and the hundreds of deaths at sea in the Mediterranean this year all show, by interfering with human nature borders cause deaths, forcing people to take greater risks simply to do as humans do.

Borders are also deprecated by those on the Left inspired by the grand tradition of international socialism. The Left historically sees common struggle and comradeship, not difference and division. Others draw inspiration from the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.

For progressives, collective action is both the means and the end. Unity makes us stronger and achieves more. To put it another way, we humans are better together.

people reaching across a border Images by Carrie on 1000 Blackbirds

Personally, when I think of my own family history and our movement around the United Kingdom, I feel very fortunate we were not confined to one part of it. I might well not be here, I suppose, had Scotland been an independent country when my Liverpudlian father chose to move to St Andrews to study, in the process meeting and falling in love with my Glaswegian mother. The rich and varied culture of the contemporary United Kingdom owes a huge debt to the freedom of movement of the era before the late 1960s when one legally equal citizenship, that of the Citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, prevailed across a Commonwealth with no real internal borders. Today, some of us believe that our own country and our neighbours are better and stronger one because of free movement around Europe.

It is puzzling, then, to see so many erstwhile progressives and No Borders campaigners in Scotland campaigning for a new hard border, a new set of immigration rules and a whole new set of nationality laws. As I understand it – which even as a half Scot and proud Brit is imperfectly, shut out as I am even from watching the politicians debate our collective fate – the hope is that these new rules will be liberal ones. ‘No Borders!’ has morphed into ‘Some borders, not as bad as the ones that we had before, at the cost of a brand new border with the rest of what was the United Kingdom and perhaps the EU too!’

From south of the existing soft border it feels as if these campaigners have lost sight of the wood for the trees. A new hard border will be created in the event of a ‘yes’ vote and it is only the whim of two sets of present and future politicians that will permit movement across it. Borders by their nature discourage or even forbid movement: that is what borders are. We can all hope that a new Hadrian’s Wall will not be built by politicians present or future, but any strengthening of the current border will inevitably discourage free movement across it and divides rather than unites.

Some in Scotland hope for removal of the awful spouse and elderly dependent relative rules, for example, so that their fractured families can be made whole. Who can blame them? It is unimaginably awful to be the victim of the policies of our current Coalition Government. But whether characterised as ‘screw you, Jimmy’, ‘I’m alright, Jack’ or merely ‘Dear John’, this is surely the antithesis of a truly progressive, collective approach. It is like the lone prisoner making a break for it rather than working with comrades in solidarity for collective freedom. The rest of us will not only be stuck with the same current rules but face worse rules in the future.

It is painful when one finds oneself in fundamental disagreement with friends one respects and values. But that is what nationalism is all about, in all its guises: division.

Relevant articles chosen for you
Picture of Colin Yeo

Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.


25 Responses

  1. One might say that, if one is in the European Union, the smaller one’s national unit the better!
    A Luxembourger, say, only has to worry about pesky Luxembourg spouse visa rules when living in Luxembourg- anywhere else in the EU he just has to exercise treaty rights.

    If Scotland were an independent state and a member of the EU, Scottish citizens could live in the UK with non-EEA national wives, so long as they exercised treaty rights, and UK citizens could live in Scotland with non-EEA national wives on the same terms- and if you must live in England it would be easier to do Surinder Singh if you just had to live and work in Glasgow for a few months.

    Unfortunately this argument has a very serious flaw in the shape of the burgeoning movement south of the border to leave the EEA altogether, a movement Scottish independence will greatly strengthen.

    I oppose Scottish independence primarily because I do not wish the United Kingdom to leave the EU. I have a historical sentiment for the Union and I appreciate Colin’s argument against one more border, but those are minor considerations for me.

  2. Assuming you just came out as a full on ‘No Borders’ supporter – something I have always considered to be the lunatic fringe, as contrasted with the perfectly reasonable liberal wish for fair & compassionate border controls – can you explain how a welfare state or national health service survives in a country where anyone is free to travel to that country and use those services at will?

    I ask because you seem like a more well-balanced individual than the average ‘No Borders’ Activist one encounters and I am sure you will have a rational response. For me, it seems like the giant hole in the plan that is never properly explained.

    Back on topic, though I understand the significant desire amongst the more left-leaning Scottish electorate to be free of the English Tory yoke, we are clearly better together for so many other reasons and I look forward to the inevitable ‘No’ vote next month.

  3. If there were really no borders then the nation state would cease to exist: we would have world government. Clearly this is a utopian (or possibly dystopian) fantasy- an ideal, like the stars, which cannot be reached. In a sense, speculating about what would happen if we reached it is a little pointless. Still, that isn’t going to stop me- there are plenty of words written on what would happen if man reached the stars.

    I can’t speak for Colin, but I support universal healthcare free at the point of delivery and the provision of a basic* safety net for the poorest in society and I believe both those things could be implemented under world government. A small amount of resources would be saved because there would be no need for immigration lawyers (on either side).

    *Considerably more basic than the current level of welfare provision in the UK. But that is a debate for another time.

    1. Apologies for the assumption Colin, but despite the careful wording your post did seem to me to be suggesting that you were also a supporter of No Borders. As for the assumption about the referendum, I just don’t see every Don’t Know becoming a No in the next 3 weeks, so can’t see anything but a defeat for independence.

      Philip, of course I can see that a world government redistributing wealth could provide a welfare state for the whole world, but that is a pipe dream which surely all but the lunatics recognise as impossible by the time we leave our teens at the latest? What I really don’t get is that part of the No Borders movement which seems to think that Britain or even the whole EU could drop border controls unilaterally and not become bankrupt within a year.

  4. The alternative to world government for a world with no borders would be decentralisation and decision making being brought back to a human, community level. Heirarchical decision making structures make people on the lower rungs feel disenfranchised and allow the elites of every ideological colour, to gather disproportionate amounts of resources and control over everyone else’s life.

    If the elites, especially the western ones, hadn’t plundered the World’s resources and continue to secure as much of of what is left as possible, there would be no need for the kinds of immigration control we see in all western countries presently.

    The western elites have been raping and pillaging with impunity for centuries and with the advent of easy travel, are pulling up the drawbridge to keep their plunder safe.

    On the point of Scottish independence, I hope they vote no because we will be stuck with even more right wing governments down here, but I understand why many Scots might want to bail out.

    And Colin, I didn’t know you had a Scouse father! High 5 lol.

    I’m a Thatcher refugee who fled her economic war on Merseyside in the 1980’s :-)

    1. Amanda, I entirely agree with your sentiments. But surely the solution is to encourage a re-balancing of the world’s economy by development in poorer countries, facilitated by keeping the brightest and best IN those countries. Mass migration doesn’t really help the inequality at all so far as I can see.

  5. David Cameron wants the referendum in 2017 to leave EU. Obviously his ideals have little to do with unity. Scotland is pro EU. What’s the point of invoking the word ‘union’ among hypocrites.

    1. David Cameron’s ‘ideals’ (I doubt he has any other than that the elite should continue to rule) are not those of most of the rest of us.

  6. Much as I am loathe to enter the political arena, I am provoked (despite being in Delhi at the moment and sweltering at 40 degrees C!).

    I agree with your sentiments Colin, but not your conclusion. Does not the lone escapee undermine the confidence of the prison authorities and give hope to the less fortunate inmates? This is a debate that is bigger than immigration controls. Oxfam is currently running a campaign based on the extraordinary statistic that 85 individuals in the world – a double decker bus full – own more wealth than the poorest half of the world’s population, some 3.5 billion. The UK state – the financial institutions in the City particularly – have been at the forefront of the world’s neo-liberal economic policies that have shifted that wealth so successfully from the poor to the rich. And the UK’s role in Iraq, Afghanistan etc has hardly led to a better world! Indeed, alongside the US, it has led to a massive resurgence of reaction in so much of the globe.

    So anything that weakens the UK state must be good for most of us, and surely Scottish independence does that in a big way.

    PO – can you not imagine a world where POs and immigration lawyers are a thing of history? Couldn’t we be doing oh so much more creative and fun things with our time? Those who really benefit from closed borders are attacking your working conditions, cutting your pension, increasing your retirement age, selling off your NHS and dismantling as much of the welfare state as they can get away with. Have you not noticed? And that isn’t the fault of migrants. Surely a better answer than obsessively restricting ordinary people’s movement (because of course the rich have no borders) would be a fairer distribution of income so everyone in the world has their basic needs met. That is not utopia. It may not be around the corner, but a journey of 10,000 miles starts with a single step!

    You remind me a bit of the demos in the US against ObamaCare. Some poor people without health insurance, and therefore without access to healthcare, are persuaded to attend the demos by the Republican establishment and private health lobby, on the basis that universal healthcare is tantamount to Soviet style communism and surely therefore a bad thing. They actually go out and demonstrate against their own right to healthcare. Turkeys voting for Xmas you might say.

    1. Free movement is quite a Thing for me and I just can’t get behind the immediate and potentially long term sacrifice of free movement and political solidarity for potentially illusory gains in future. The immediate impact on the vulnerable in the rest of the UK is impossible to countenance. Raised by my Scottish mother to be British — Scottish mother, Liverpudlian father, born in Derbyshire, raised in Birmingham, educated in Oxford, living and working now in London — I also have a strong emotional attachment, I’ll readily admit.

    2. Julian, how quick you are to judge another…

      Coming as I do from a good socialist family (and Irish immigrant stock for that matter), yes I am well aware of the damage being done by this government to both its own employees and the country more broadly. You of all people should be more wary about assuming civil servants share in their own private lives the views and aims of the government they serve in their professional lives.

      I’m at a complete loss as to why I remind you of the opponents of ObamaCare.

  7. I don’t think the destruction of the British state will solve world poverty- in fact the exit of rump UK from the EU will disrupt the global economy- and in terms of foreign policy Scotland’s exit will make the rump UK a more subservient lapdog of US interests which will be more likely to pursue disastrous foreign adventures. Also, if the Conservative majority government/coalition with UKIP in Rump UK does tear up the ECHR (and maybe the refugee convention too), the effect will be disastrous for everyone, but for the poor and oppressed in particular. The world does not need another Australia.

  8. Just thought I’d clarify that the ‘need’ for immigration control I mentioned, was the elite’s need, not anyone else’s. It only benefits the elite to keep poor people in segregated units and prevent them from following the flow of money and resources to the West.

    I don’t actually believe in borders, because as Julien says above, the rich and corporations are exempt from immigration control.

    1. What is ‘the elite’? Is Colin a member of the elite? He’s a barrister and a very good one…

  9. The practical and immediate impact of Scotland voting yes, is an inbuilt and permenant Tory majority in England and Wales, no longer will the Tory party require the lib dems as a fig leaf nor to form a majority, imagine what manner of law and order policies would then flow; be careful what you wish for ……..

    1. Permanent? The Labour party won the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections even ignoring Scottish MPs. The only General election result in the past 40 years where the parties in power would change if there were no Scottish MPs is the 2010 election- as you say, Tories would not need Lib Dems. But one election victory does not a permanent government make.

      However, a Tory majority in 2015 is undesirable enough, even if we could look forward to their eventual defeat some time in the 2030s.

  10. As an English born Scot, with English-born parents and siblings resident there, I have already been given food for thought on this question, which I often wish I hadn’t been asked to answer, You have added to that. thank you. I will vote yes but my feelings will be mixed. I hope this post explains why so many Scots have concluded that it is the UK that is abandoning treasured values, and that we are being given a chance to rethink.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Sarah. Anything that makes it harder for my children to move around what is now the UK than it was for my parents feels very wrong to me, and the opposite of progress.

  11. I suspect that Scotland will be part of the common travel area Colin but, in any case, the world is more than the sum of it’s immigration controls. The EU could well ditch free movement if it means keeping the economic club alive. Tusk is already hinting at that. That would hardly upset the neo-liberals that run it. And what is the EU shorn of free movement? An incredibly undemocratic club, run by the guy who spent a career making Luxembourg into a tax haven, and which has ordered a recession throughout Europe to compensate the banks for their casino excesses. Looking at the world through the prism of immigration controls can hide the wood for the trees. I am one of the loons who would love a border less world. I have direct family members who fled pogroms in East Europe, others from India, Jamaica, Australia, the US and indeed Wales and Scotland. A few from England too! But the world appears to me to be falling apart at the seams at the moment, environmentally, and politically, and defending any part of the status quo at the moment seems counter intuitIve to me. Lining up behind Cameron et al to defend the Uk state is something I cannot bring myself to do.

    1. Some people say Scotland would, by seceding, automatically leave the EU and then be forced to rejoin- presumably similar controls would be put on Scots movement to those applied to, for example, Croatia.

      This would totally destroy my Surinder Singh argument above.
      As for the view of Mr Tusk that freedom of movement of workers is a “barrier”, I venture to suggest he is unlikely to be able to push it forward if Labour win the election next year. Which in turn is strongly linked to Scotland staying in the UK.

      Free Movement is not the only thing I care about. However, unlike those of you who support Free Movement from socialist/anarchist ideology, the other things I care about generally tend to benefit form the existence of the British state.

  12. The article refers to “checkpoints” at the border discouraging free movement. Having driven over the border from the UK to Ireland many a time, I am amazed by the lack of checkpoints or even signs to give an indication when one has passed from one jurisdiction to the other. I would be amazed if Westminster could not reach an agreement with Edinburgh similar to their current one with Dublin.

    1. If Scotland is in the EU and the UK is not or vice versa then surely there will have to be check points! But other than that I guess some sort of common travel area could be worked out…nationality laws will be interesting too.

Or become a member of Free Movement today
Verified by MonsterInsights