DURING the 2014 Scottish referendum campaign, Unionists like Labour’s Ed Balls and Ed Miliband liked to infuriate Yes supporters by claiming that there would be border posts if Scotland voted for independence.

Yoon scare-mongering, we said. No Scottish government would ever tolerate border posts at Gretna. There shall always be free movement on these sacred isles.

Well, times change. Following Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that it might be illegal for English people to drive to Scotland, there have been demands from many of her supporters to introduce border checks.

There have been warnings of fleets of English camper vans, holiday homers and day trippers flooding across the border carrying toxic loads of Covid-19 following Boris Johnson’s lifting of travel restrictions.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak may have removed one bone of border contention by extending the furlough scheme, which was due to end before Scotland came out of lockdown. But worries continue about contagion.

They should be sent home to think again, according to Western Isles MP Angus Brendan O’Neill. “If people in England think they can go everywhere and it’s a Covid hotspot,” he said, “ it would only be prudent to have checks making sure people aren’t circulating.”

It’s hard to dispute his logic. Ms Sturgeon says she will not “play Russian roulette with people’s lives”. If she is serious about her Stay Home message being “a matter of life and death” then restricting travel would arguably be a requirement in the interests of public health.

It is what the First Minister’s most vocal public health adviser, Professor Devi Sridhar, has been saying all along: that Scotland should have introduced border controls in February, before the disease gained a foothold. Had it done so, she says, a regime of test and trace could have checked the contagion before it got a foothold.

A number of her epidemiologist colleagues at Edinburgh University told BBC Scotland’s Disclosure programme this week that more than 2,000 deaths could have been avoided had Scotland followed New Zealand, which started closing its borders in February, and suppressed the infection. Instead, Scotland remained in lockstep the UK, cancelled testing and introduced no border controls to speak of until last week.

But this is definitely not a road the First Minister wishes to go down. Ms Sturgeon is an internationalist who abhors border talk, which she associates with Brexiters and racists. However, it is not entirely rational to insist on a Scotland First health policy and ignore the question of travel restrictions.

Formal responsibility for borders is reserved to Westminster, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be checks. Ms Sturgeon said this week that Police Scotland are already enforcing different laws in Scotland, such as drink driving.

If travel to Scotland really is illegal, as the FM says, police could in theory collar English people found to be driving with intent to visit. They could detect them by number plate recognition via speed cameras on the M74 and the A1.

I’m not being entirely facetious here. If there is a further spike in Covid cases following Mr Johnson’s relaxation of the guidelines in England, pressure on the Scottish Government to introduce controls could be irresistible.

In Ireland, there are already some border checks, despite Mr Johnson insisting this week that they don’t exist. Under Operation Fanacht, Gardai between Donegal and Derry have reportedly been turning back motorists from the North travelling to second homes and beauty spots.

Yet, when all is said and done, the difference between Scotland and the new regime in England really isn’t as great as the FM has suggested in her alarmist rhetoric. People in Scotland are no longer obliged to remain confined for all but one hour a day and can now go out for exercise “as often as they like”, according to the Deputy First Minister John Swinney. The Scottish message now seems to be: Stay Home, But Go Out.

Of course, Mr Johnson has rashly allowed English people to speak to one person they know when they are out and about, provided they stick to social distancing. But I don’t see how people in Scotland can be denied the right to do likewise.

If you are in a supermarket queue, or out on a walk, and a relative appears six feet away are you breaking the law? How could it be enforced? The difference in regimes, travel aside, seems to come down to a ban on garden centres and sitting down on benches.

Construction sites are still closed, but drill down into the latest Scottish guidelines and you find that people can return to work in garages, hardware shops, bicycle shops, banks, building societies, launderettes, shopping and distribution centres and public transport.

And the big border battle everyone was gearing up for has not happened. Mr Sunak, pulled the rug from Labour and the Scottish Government yesterday by announcing that the furlough scheme, due to end next month, is to be extended until the end of October.

Workers will continue to receive 80 per cent of their former earnings, not 60 per cnet as widely forecast in the press and social media. Countless angry tweets were deleted. Waste baskets in Westminster were filled with shredded Labour speeches.

The SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, was lost for words. He was ready to demand that Scotland should not be penalised for staying in lockdown longer than in England.

Of course, it may mean a tsunami of redundancies in November. Some 400,000 Scottish jobs are dependent on the Government’s job guarantee scheme. Also, the Chancellor’s income guarantee requires employers to start paying more of the bill for furloughed employees.

It will cost the rest of us too. Half of all workers in the UK are now being paid by the state, if you include public sector workers and those on Universal Credit. Supporters of a Universal Basic Income may celebrate that, but it is impossible to finance it indefinitely.

This is because those wages and benefits are paid by the taxes of the other half of the country who aren’t on furlough. It is like finding the money to pay for a second NHS out of falling tax revenues Taxes would have to rise dramatically across the board. And whatever side of the Border you live on, that would be political suicide.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

Read more: Sunak extends UK Government furlough scheme