Why there’ll be border controls at Gretna Green

In 712 days from today, Scotland could be an independent nation. And the rest of the UK will be obliged to impose border controls. Not, as you might think, to prevent Romanian and Syrian refugees sneaking past at Gretna Green, but to carry out border inspections of Scottish smoked salmon, MacSween haggises and Loch Fyne oysters.

The only thing that is certain about the proposals for independence is that everything is uncertain. With the results of the referendum known on 19th September this year, that leaves only 552 days to sort out the arrangements for an independent Scottish nation, and most of that time will be spent begging for warships and aircraft and simultaneously demanding that rUK removes its nuclear assets from the Clyde. The remaining political energy will be engaged in wrangling over debts and assets, and what arrangements can be put in place to keep electricity flowing between the two countries.

There are huge problems in ensuring an orderly transition from being in the UK and, by extension, the European Union, and being outside both. I’ve no doubt that the natural goodwill between friendly neighbours on this island will overcome many problems and keep business as normal as much as possible, but what the rUK cannot do is independently admit to its markets goods and products which otherwise require border controls to enter the EU. And food which contains products of animal origin is one such set of goods.

Whatever Alec Salmond says, the indications are pretty clear that an independent Scotland will, on 24th March 2016, not be a member of the EU. On this point, the President of the European Commission, Mr Jose Manuel Barroso, told the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee:

A new independent state would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the EU and the Treaties would no longer apply on its territory … any European state which respects the principles set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union may apply to become a member of the EU. If the application is accepted by the Council acting unanimously, an agreement is then negotiated between the applicant state and the Member States on the conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties which such admission entails. This agreement is subject to ratification by all Member States and the applicant state.

Council Directive 97/78/EC of 18 December 1997 lays down the principles governing the organisation of veterinary checks on products entering the Community from third countries. This is supplemented by Regulation (EC) 882/2004, which organises official controls of food and feed so as to integrate controls at all stages of production and in all sectors.

This Directive applies to imports from third countries, specifically:

  • food products of animal origin;
  • animal feed;
  • plant products which may give rise to the risk of spreading infectious or contagious animal diseases; and
  • by-products not intended for human consumption.

All consignments of products from third countries shall be subjected to veterinary checks required by the Directive before being introduced into the European Union (EU). These checks shall be carried out at a border inspection post by the competent authority under the responsibility of the official veterinarian. The checks include:

  • a documentary check involving verification of the veterinarian certificates and documents or other documents accompanying the consignment;
  • an identity check to ascertain that the products correspond to the information given in the accompanying certificates or documents;
  • a physical check in order to ascertain that the products satisfy the requirements of EU legislation (packaging, temperature, sampling and laboratory testing). and

These checks can be largely mitigated by ensuring that products of animal origin come from “approved Third Country establishments”. The legal basis for the listing of Third Country establishments is provided by Regulation 854/2004. The relevant extract from Article 12 follows:

Article 12
List of establishments from which imports of specified products of animal origin are permitted

1. Products of animal origin may be imported into the Community only if they have been dispatched from, and obtained or prepared in, establishments that appear on lists drawn up and updated in accordance with this Article, except:
(a) when, on a case-by-case basis, it is decided, in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 19(2), that the guarantees that a specified third country provides in respect of imports of specified products of animal origin are such that the procedure provided for in this Article is unnecessary to ensure compliance with the requirements of paragraph 2;
and
(b) in the cases specified in Annex V.
In addition, fresh meat, minced meat, meat preparations, meat products and mechanically separated meat (MSM) may be imported into the Community only if they have been manufactured from meat obtained in slaughterhouses and cutting plants appearing on lists drawn up and updated in accordance with this Article or in approved Community establishments.

2. An establishment may be placed on such a list only if the competent authority of the third country of origin guarantees that:
(a) that establishment, together with any establishments handling raw material of animal origin used in the manufacture of the products of animal origin concerned, complies with relevant Community requirements, in particular those of Regulation (EC) No 853/2004, or with requirements that were determined to be equivalent to such requirements when deciding to add that third country to the relevant list in accordance with Article 11;
(b) an official inspection service in that third country supervises the establishments and makes available to the Commission, where necessary, all relevant information on establishments furnishing raw materials;
and
(c) it has real powers to stop the establishments from exporting to the Community in the event that the establishments fail to meet the requirements referred to under (a).

3. The competent authorities of third countries appearing on lists drawn up and updated in accordance with Article 11 shall guarantee that lists of the establishments referred to in paragraph 1 are drawn up, kept up-to-date and communicated to the Commission.

4. (a) The Commission shall provide the contact points that Member States have designated for this purpose with regular notifications concerning new or updated lists that it has received from the competent authorities of third countries concerned in accordance with paragraph 3.
(b) If no Member State objects to the new or updated list within 20 working days of the Commission’s notification, imports shall be authorised from establishments appearing on the list 10 working days after the day on which the Commission makes it available to the public.
(c) The Commission shall, whenever at least one Member State makes written comments, or whenever it considers that the modification of a list is necessary in the light of relevant information such as Community inspection reports or a notification under the rapid alert system, inform all Member States and include the point on agenda of the next meeting of the relevant section of the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health for decision, where appropriate, in accordance with the procedure referred to in Article 19(2).

5. The Commission shall arrange for up-to-date versions of all lists to be available to the public.

It is the nature of the EU that it has one external border for trade, and that any goods within that border can be freely traded between member states without further hindrance. At the moment, products of animal origin produced in member states, including those from Scottish producers, carry an oval marking which indicates that the food has been produced in an establishment approved under Regulation (EC) 853/2004. Those oval markings cannot be applied to Third Country products. This alone means that, at the very least, there is a great deal of work to be done if the trade in Scottish food with its largest markets in the EU is to continue after 26th March 2016.

At the absolute minimum, the EU will require to recognise the competence of the system of official controls in place in Scotland and agree that every food manufacturer currently approved under Regulation (EC) 853/2004 can transition to the status of an approved Third Country establishment. Additionally, every food producer will require to change their packaging and remove the oval “health mark” once Scotland is no longer a member of the EU, and any products already so labelled will no longer be permitted to be sold within the EU. Unless there is enormous good will from the EU institutions and considerable hard work in negotiating transitional arrangements. But, for sure, there is going to be a period of time when Scotland is outwith the EU in the case of independence and the peril to our farming and food production industry is serious – potentially catastrophically so – and so far ignored by the politicians.

As Professor Jo Shaw of Edinburgh University has said, all of these things are negotiable, but how much priority will the livelihoods of farmers, fishermen and food manufacturers receive in the vain-glorious charge to secession?

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Improvement required from the Scottish Conservatives

Improvement Required

I wrote previously about bad food safety statistics from the Scottish Conservatives and, a week later, about their failure to respond to my questions about their report. Since I’ve had no acknowledgement nor any response in the week since my last enquiry, I’ve now emailed Mary Scanlon MSP directly as follows:

To: Mary.Scanlon.MSP@scottish.parliament.uk
Subject: Food hygiene standards in Scottish schools

Dear Ms Scanlon,
Earlier this month the Scottish Conservatives published a media release on food hygiene standards in Scottish schools and which quoted you as the Education spokesperson for the party. I do not believe the conclusions reached in that report could be based on the reported data sources, nor that the report accurately represents the regulation of food safety in schools in Scotland. I have written a critique of that report here
.
I have twice attempted to obtain additional information about the report through the enquiries form on the Scottish Conservatives’ website, but have received neither an acknowledgement of my request nor a response. I am certain that you would expect better customer care of any public sector body and will be as surprised as I am that I have been ignored to date.
My second request was dated 11th January – one week ago – and was as follows:

On 6th January I made an enquiry which has, to date, neither been answered nor acknowledged. You can find the text of my question at the foot of this blog post: https://patrickmackie.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/bad-food-safety-statistics-from-the-scottish-conservative-party/
I’d appreciate a response.
Thank you

I am certain that you care as much as I do about the safety of food in schools AND the accuracy of the reporting of the facts. I should be grateful for your response to these enquiries.
Yours sincerely,
Patrick Mackie

Let’s see how long it takes to get a response and the answers this time. All correspondence will be posted here.

No response yet from the Scottish Conservatives

Improvement Required

On Monday I wrote about the inaccurate information about food safety in Scottish schools disseminated by the Scottish Conservatives, who are a sort of political party. I’ve not heard from them all week, so I made a follow-up enquiry just now. Let’s see how long they take to respond …

On 6th January I made an enquiry which has, to date, neither been answered nor acknowledged. You can find the text of my question at the foot of this blog post: https://patrickmackie.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/bad-food-safety-statistics-from-the-scottish-conservative-party/
I’d appreciate a response.
Thank you

Why I shall reluctantly be voting No

I’ve been having a wee ranty thing on Twitter about the SNP’s recently-published white paper on an independent Scotland. Peejay (@peejaydee70) has challenged me to explain my thinking a bit more, so Peejay, this post is for you.

The process will fail Scotland

We are offered a binding referendum on the question of whether or not Scotland should be an independent country. That’s it. Everything else that really matters – what the constitutional and economic settlement might be, is unknown. Even when those matters are known, the people of Scotland will have no say in whether or not they are acceptable to them, or whether they can be satisfied that the settlement will result in a modern European nation in which everyone can flourish, both socially and economically. I am generally opposed to buying a pig in a poke, and by the time the cat’s let out of the bag, it will, of course, be too late; the deal will have been done.

Failure to establish a secession process whereby any constitutional settlement has to be put to the people who must live under it is fundamentally flawed and shows contempt for the intelligence of the Scottish people. It is also perilous for our negotiators and the nation. If the referendum is in favour of independence, then our negotiations will be in the hands of politicians for whom independence at any price, rather than the best possible outcomes for the people of Scotland, will be the priority. We’re not going to have a strong and authoritative place at the negotiating table if those representing us look like drowning men who would settle for a box of matches rather than hold out for a lifeboat. Scotland’s negotiators will have more power if they can assure the other parties that any settlement must be acceptable to the people of Scotland in a final referendum.

There are many examples of nations gaining their independence without settling such fundamental constitutional matters first, but what’s at stake is actually too important to leave until later. The SNP promise all sorts of things about our currency, borders, citizenship, trade freedom, membership of the EU (not automatic), structural debt and so on, none of which can be known until formal negotiations are concluded. That’s the time to put the formal question to the people, rather than promising everything without evidence and dressing up a party manifesto as the constitutional arrangements for a modern democracy.

I am a proud Scot, but I will not be bought or sold by a parcel of rogues without knowing the price of my head.

This impoverished vision is for a medieval society instead of a modern secular republic.

The SNP have a long and unsavoury track record of sooking-up to priests, princes and popes which does nothing to challenge the unwarranted privilege of religion and kings in our society. The white paper demonstrates the failure even to conceive of a modern European democracy by promising to retain the Crown and the place of religion in Scottish society. Instead, we should expect a clear and bold vision of a new and different sort of Scotland, rather than fossilising these archaic and unequal privileges in any new settlement.

The whole process of selling independence has been on the basis of finding the price of Yes votes, rather than the intrinsic value of independence itself. This is because Alec Salmond is an inveterate and consummate politician, not a statesman like Donald Dewar. I would that Donald were still here and leading this process. The SNP’s vision fails for me on two major grounds:

Firstly, the politicians want to keep a monarchy in Scotland. Apart from the mediaeval anachronism that is having a magical parent to an infantilised population, I have no desire to be someone’s subject, least of all to woo-believing, tree-hugging foreign loon. As a humanist, I no more wish to bow my knee to a human demi-god than to the fantastic imaginings of an iron-age sheep-herding patriarch.

Constitutionally, keeping the English crown poses serious issues – do the people have the power to rule themselves through their elected representatives in their own parliament, or do we cede powers to some manifestation of royal prerogative with secret and unaccountable privy councils making the decisions that affect our liberties? And how do we protect our independence when we involve the foreign court of a foreign king in our most intimate political decisions?

The second impoverishment of vision is that the SNP are committed to retaining the pernicious influence of kirk and church in a new Scottish society, perpetuating the sectarianism and division that causes such fundamental harm in Scotland today. This is a determination to embed the infrastructure of division into our constitution. The influence of the church in Scottish public life is deeper and more pernicious than I had ever realised before I came back to live in Scotland some nine years ago. For instance, all councils are obliged to appoint three church representatives to sit on their education boards, and many councils actually permit these religious appointees as members of full council as well, a fact which would horrify most secular Scots.

Secularism is ensuring that no religious party is privileged in law or the practice of government, at any level in a state. This protects the interests of all religious groups and ensures that none are disadvantaged by privileging another above them.

The educational apparatus at the heart of our sectarian division is promised to be continued. Denominational schools would continue unabated in an independent Scotland. In other words, publically-funded schools will continue to indoctrinate their own particular brands of religion to children as young as five and six, acting as incubators of sectarianism and division for the next generation. State-sponsored bigotry has no place in a society which strives to secure equality for people of any religious persuasion or of none.

The Scotland I would like to see would be a secular republic, not one in which priests, ministers and moderators have hold of longer levers of power than even they do now.

Two last things:

It is for the proposer of a motion to make the case why their argument should prevail. Similarly, the customer is under no obligation to buy, no matter how oleaginous the salesman. Many enthusiastic supporters of the Yes campaign would like the un-persuaded to make the contrary argument, forgetting that it is the failure of their own case which requires the greater scrutiny.

It has been said that this is the opportunity of a generation and, if we don’t grasp independence now, then it won’t come our way again for a long time. That may be so, but we always have now the opportunity to build a fairer, more just and more secular society through our existing institutions; the Scottish Government appear determined to embed injustice and inequality in independence. I would rather know that I’ve got a chance to fight for a secular Scotland in the Union than know that religion is to woven into the rip-stop fabric of a new constitution.

Peejay, you probably won’t agree with much of my argument, or even my conclusions, but I hope this gives you a bit of an insight into my thinking. I am persuadable, I just wish there were statesmen fighting for the cause of Scotland who could make me believe their vision.

Scottish friends; send John Finnie MSP your views on his bill to abolish Church appointees on Council education Committees

Thanks to Paul for bringing this to my attention, I’m now bringing it to yours.

Primate's Progress

This is the first stage of the consultation process. Here’s my input. You can find the outline of the bill, and associated questions, here. All you need do is copy the questions, give your own answers (mine below might help, but please don’t cut and paste; it spoils the whole effect), get organisations you’re involved in to consider doing likewise, and pass the word on.

To john.finnie.msp@scottish.parliament.uk 

Response to your proposal to remove Church representatives from education committees.

I am Paul Braterman, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry, 48 Nith Street, Glasgow G 33 2AF, responding as an individual.

Q1: Do you agree that the obligation on local authorities to appoint three church representatives to Education Committees (set out in section 124 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973) should be removed?

Yes, most strongly. It is an affront to democracy, completely anachronistic and in no way representative of the current…

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