Border reivers and the minefield that could be European trade post Brexit


Commentary by Derek Bateman

Here’s a talking point from history for you as a weekend treat…it comes from an academic whose identity I will shield. My correspondent is worried about the approach of Ruth Davidson who said on the BBC that only 16 per cent of Scotland’s trade is with the EU but 60 per cent is with England. 

Derek Bateman
Derek Bateman

‘This reminded me of the trap that was sprung in 1707, when as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession (which didn’t end until 1712) and other anti-Europe trade measures enacted by the Crown, Scotland’s trade with Europe (which was then substantial – more than 16 per cent, I would have thought, but no figures are available that I’m aware of) was greatly curtailed.

‘However cross-Border trade had steadily bloomed since 1603. One of James VI’s key objective on becoming joint monarch was to settle the Anglo-Scottish Border wars and crack down on the Border rievers on both sides – Scottish and English monarchs had not succeeded in co-operating sufficiently to stamp this out.

‘Anyway, the gist of it was that there was a large amount of trade with England by 1707 which went overland, across the Borders, at a time when trade with Europe and overseas was severely curtailed. When England threatened Scotland in 1706 with the Aliens Act, whereby this trade would also be severely curtailed unless Scotland agreed to the Union, they played a blinder.

‘It was one of the key threats to Scotland that ensured the passage of the Acts of Union. It is notable that (then as now) that there was a compelling economic logic to this, (the logic of blackmail, that is) that so many were willing to vote against the Union irrespective of the fact that as a result of the Aliens Act coming into force we would almost certainly have been worse off in the short to medium term.

He's talking' about ME again, yay !
He’s talking’ about ME again, yay !

‘Davidson didn’t quite say it, but I think she was issuing a similar threat, that if we voted for independence, England would threaten to, and probably carry out, under a Tory government, tariff restrictions on our English trade. And if we had already been brought out of Europe by England, we would have lost our European trade to, or at least it would be hampered by being outside of the EU.

‘History repeats itself….many who accepted the union in 1707 were not enthusiastic for it. They simply felt it was catch 22 and there was a compelling logic to it given the situation Scotland was placed in. But, on the plus side, at least the union offered global opportunities through the nascent British Empire not so available in an independent Scotland. Scots became ardent British expansionists. In a weird way, it became a badge of Scottish pride and a compensation for our national humiliation in 1707 to out-British the English in the UK’s global expansion.’

Could it all happen again?