First Minister dismisses Scottish independence 'hard border' claims


Nicola Sturgeon has dismissed suggestions from one of her own former ministers that Scottish independence could lead to the creation of a "hard border" between Scotland and England.

Scotland's First Minister said there is no reason for anyone to suggest border posts are "inevitable" - particularly after Prime Minister Theresa May indicated she wants to maintain an open border with the Republic of Ireland.

SNP MSP Alex Neil, who retreated to the backbenches in May after five years in the Scottish cabinet, has said an open border between an independent Scotland and the remainder of the UK "is likely to be very difficult to achieve".

Ms Sturgeon visited Hawick, 15 miles from the border, on Tuesday to announce funding to raise educational attainment in deprived areas.

She told the Press Association: "I don't want to see a hard border between Scotland and England any more than people in Ireland want to see a hard border between the north and south.

"We've heard the Prime Minister say she is not prepared to have a hard border with Ireland.

"If it can be avoided there then, regardless of what might or might not happen with Scotland's future, there's absolutely no reason for anybody to be suggesting that that is inevitable here either."

Ms Sturgeon has said another independence referendum is "highly likely" following the UK vote to leave the European Union (EU) despite an overwhelming vote to remain in Scotland.

However, she has said she is also looking at options to keep Scotland both inside the UK and in the EU.

Writing in Holyrood magazine last week, Mr Neil said: "It would prove particularly difficult to win majority support if there is any suggestion independence could lead to the creation of a 'hard border' between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

"However, if independence is defined as Scotland becoming a full member of the EU, keeping an open border with the rest of the UK is likely to be very difficult to achieve."

Any arrangement which allows Scotland to remain in the EU after the rest of the UK leaves is likely to create border issues, as free movement of people is one of the key pillars of EU membership.

A desire to control immigration was one of the main arguments of the Leave campaign and Ukip has warned the Scottish border could become "the new Calais" if a more liberal immigration policy is adopted by the Scottish Government.

Ms Sturgeon confirmed ministers are "exploring all options" to keep Scotland in the European Union.

She said: "Clearly we are working in a situation at the moment where we don't yet know what the UK is going to seek to try to achieve.

"We're in discussion with the UK Government about our involvement in that process going forward.

"I will continue to keep parliament updated in the weeks and months ahead."