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We must outsmart the smugglers on any hard border with England



Here's my latest column in the Scotsman, published 7th November 2022....


The 1980s concept of Designing out Crime was a thoughtful approach to architecture and our environment with the aim of reducing the vulnerability of people and property by removing the opportunities for crime.


It was clever and it worked, with everything from the location of taxi ranks and street lighting to the layout of town centres and the deployment of CCTV being considered. The theory was simple enough. Eliminating all crime was impossible but by careful design and layout, crime could be reduced.


Over the years the theory has been put into practice, notably eliminating the underpasses and gangways so beloved of post war concrete jungles. The evidence of its success is all around with our much improved urban layout that has helped reduce the violence and crime that plagued us in the 70s & 80s. Old fashioned crime prevention gets few plaudits but for decades it has worked effectively to harden targets and reduce crime. That’s why so many criminals now operate on-line: it’s easier.


I was put in mind of the principles of designing out crime recently when reading recent discussions about establishing a trade border with England, should we decide to separate from the UK.


In the briefest of summaries, it was explained that if Scotland joined the EU, a trade border would be established requiring checkpoints only on the two motorway routes along our 75-mile border with England. A commentator helpfully pointed out that such an arrangement would require cooperation from both sides of the border. An understatement if there ever was one.


A newly established trade border will take a lot more than goodwill to secure. Where there is no free trade agreement, and price and tax differences exist, borders are an invitation to smugglers - and smuggling is the bread and butter of organised crime.


The Mafia rose to power in The US on the back of bootlegged booze during prohibition a century ago. Over the same period, paramilitary gangs on either side of the Irish Border have profited from any contraband that paid, from fuel to livestock as well as more deadly trade. Once smuggling networks have been established they are difficult to root out. Just look at the problem combatting ‘county lines’ drug running.


But of course, secure borders do exist and with a combination of checkpoints and electronic monitoring they can be made reasonably tight. In our case, this would require a sizeable Scottish Border Force to supervise not only the English Border but also the dozens of ports and harbours along our long coastline.


If we, as a nation, decide to take a course which requires us to build a border with England we should do so with our eyes open and the consequences calculated. If we cannot design out crime, we should at least be careful not to design it in.



My article can also be read on the Scotsman's website, by clicking here.



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