We need us: the story of the last Scottish referendum

The 'No' campaign material from the last Scottish referendum may seem out-dated, says Merryn Somerset Webb - but the issues remain the same.

A letter arrives from a Scottish friend. It contains some materials from what you might call "the last Better Together campaign", the referendum of 1979.

There are some little stickers which read "Good Girls Say NO on 1st March". There are some car stickers with a pretty clear message: "Disintegration? After two and a half centuries?"

But best of all there is a leaflet from "Scottish Customs Controls". This was knocked up by the 'No' campaign and then given to groups of students who were sent up and down passing them out on the London to Edinburgh trains.

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It's a brilliantly terrifying document.Here's how it starts. "When you enter Scotland you will pass through customs. A valid passport must be shown. All goods in excess of the duty-free allowances which you have obtained outside MUST BE DECLARED. There are strict limits to the amount of money in Sterling Notes (£) or Pounds Scots (Sc£) you may take in and out of Scotland. Excess cash and undeclared goods in excess of the allowances are liable to forfeiture."

It then goes on to outline what you may and may not bring in the way of tobacco (not more than 200 cigarettes and "Scottish residents and nationals are entitled to the above allowances only on production of official receipts to show that the tobacco was obtained more than 60 miles from the frontier post"), and alcohol ("the re-importation of Scotch whisky purchased more cheaply in England and elsewhere in the EEC is currently forbidden").

Then on other goods, there is talk of "an equalisation surcharge" on anything bought cheaply in England as well as a note that "the importation of firearms for sporting or any other purpose is forbidden."

Finally, at the end of the document there is a "special note" to motorists pointing out that only the "main frontier posts" are open all year and day around. Try crossing anywhere else and you "may be diverted or turned back."

It is easy to say that some of this sounds ridiculous to the modern ear. Maybe it does. But the point still stands. If Scotland is independent, Scotland is a foreign country. And if Scotland is a foreign country it has borders.

It is also worth noting that while the 'Yes' campaign says that it would like to be in the EU, but keep free movement between Scotland and England , it is hard to see how this is possible.

To be a member of the EU now you have to be inside the Schengen Immigration area, which the UK isn't. So, as it stands, there would have to be a real border and crossing of some kind or another. Here's The Scotsman on the matter.

There is one final thing in my envelope of 1979 goodies. It's a little banner with the slogan from that campaign on it. It's a good one. It is "WE NEED US."

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.