I'll watch the whole thing later. There was certainly a good quality panel - Willie Rennie, Angela Constance, Anas Sarwar and Patrick Harvie. The first question from the audience of 16 and 17 year olds was on a subject close to my heart - immigration. I'd be surprised if you didn't know by now that I don't think much of the UK Border Agency, or the unhelpful and misinformed attitude towards immigration of both Tories and Labour, not to mention the less mainstream parties down south.
Willie Rennie mentioned that there was no guarantee on the terms of EU Membership that an independent Scotland would have so we don't know whether we would be forced to join the Schengen Agreement which allows borderless travel within Europe. The UK has an opt out, and so does Ireland in order to preserve its common free travel area with the UK. An independent Scotland, if it wished, might well be able to secure that opt out - but there is no guarantee that it would. This is something we need to know before we vote in 2014, and we need to have more of an assurance than the SNP telling us that it'll be fine. They've got form for saying that kind of thing without any actual basis in fact to back it up.
We need to be aware that we might end up in the EU, but a member of Schengen. That means that the free travel we enjoy within these islands is likely to be compromised, with border posts being set up at the border with England.
A few of us were discussing this last night on Twitter. Below is a bit of the conversation I had with Kate Higgins, or The Burd as she is better known in the Blogosphere. The prospect of having to show passports to get into England doesn't bother her.
That's a perfectly legitimate point of view. As is the view that this would only be a minor inconvenience. The conversation continued:
But what if you don't have a passport? I didn't until we went to Mallorca for the first time in 1993, when I was 26. Some people don't travel abroad, or can't afford to. The current price for a UK passport is £72.50 for an adult, £46 for a child. That means that a family of four wanting to go and see their Granny in Newcastle would have an extra cost of £237 plus whatever it cost to get the photos done before they started. And what about the Scottish teenager with the minimum wage job in the Tesco in Carlisle? They'd be queuing at the border every day.
It's something we have to think about. Ok, if you fly to London, you have to show photo ID - although this can be a driving licence - but you don't need to carry your passport if you're going on the train. It might not be a big deal to some, but it'll be a major pain in the neck for others.
This got me thinking, though. Bob and I have to renew our passports by May next year, before the referendum. If Scotland votes yes, then we'll only get 3 years' use out of them. And then I actually thought about having to give up my UK Passport. And, to my surprise, I filled up a bit. It hit me that I really don't want to be part of a different country. I'm a proud Scot, but I love the UK too. I feel quite an emotional attachment to the UK and it would be a real wrench to be forced out of it.
I know I'm a bit soft lump at the best of times, but even I was surprised at how much just the thought of filling in a passport form to the Scottish Government saddened me. I know, equally, for others the thought would be the sign of some great liberation that they've wanted all their lives, but I can't share that.
Of course, if Scotland votes for independence, I guess I'll have to get used to it. Bob and I would have to surrender our UK passports and apply for Scottish ones. If I could choose to, I'd want to stay part of the UK, but the choice would be a Scottish passport or be stateless I guess and I like the sunshine too much to confine myself here. Anna was born in England, but I assume as she has Scottish parents she'd get a Scottish passport.
There will be families, though, who will have to have different passports. If you're a Scot married to someone from England, where will your family stand? What about the children - could they get dual nationality? I know lots of couples with different passports because they come from different countries and it's fine - but they were in different countries when they got together. It's not the same as being in the same country that's then split up.
There will be lots of things like this that the SNP will have to explain in some detail to us about how they'll work in an independent Scotland. As a minimum we'll need to know:
- who will qualify for Scottish citizenship
- what about their spouse/kids if they are English, Welsh or Irish, EU, or outside EU
- if your spouse comes from outside EU, will they have right of residency here?
- what immigration controls will there be?
So many from my generation have got together with people from abroad, much more than in the past. It will be even greater, I suspect, with the generation of 16 an 17 year olds in the audience last night. They need to know answers to these questions before they vote.
Now, don't for a moment mistake me for someone who likes the UK immigration rules as they currently stand. In fact, I think this is where Ming Campbell's Home Rule Commission might have missed a trick, by not specifically giving some rights on immigration to Scotland. It kind of did, because it imposes a statutory duty to consult between state Governments within a Federal UK but it wasn't explicitly mentioned. Even so, that's a huge improvement on where we currently stand.
So one question in a debate has set me off on quite a long and involved train of thought about the practicalities of life after independence. I'm sure the next two years will have plenty more. I'm fairly certain that I'll be called all the evil scaremongering witches by the cybernats, who consider questions as negative smears. I don't care, though. We need to know these things.