With Brexit still settling down and the pandemic and Ukraine situation ongoing, it’s hard to be certain what the impact of re-joining the EU might have on Scottish drivers.

The key issue for many would be a “hard border” with England. This would have huge impacts for logistics and just-in-time deliveries from distribution centres based south of the Border. For private motorists it could also mean the reinstatement of passport controls and customs checks. Just imagine the queues at Gretna or Berwick. Long delays would have a direct impact on costs and make cross-border travel a lot less attractive, as well as affect the many who cross the Border regularly to work or take part in other social activities.

Post-Brexit UK/EU agreements have meant that mutual recognition of driving licences and car insurance have basically carried on, so this should not be an issue unless the EU and England went on divergent paths. This means that there should be no need to change things like the driving test or the issuing of driving licences. If England changed things, however, then an EU/Scottish driving licence might not have the same validity south of the Border. Driving licences are currently all administered from the DVLA in Swansea.

This is a huge and rather old-fashioned database where agreement would have to be reached on what happens if Scotland re-joined the EU. Would speeding offences in England be enforced on Scottish drivers and vice versa? The example of Northern Ireland does show, however, that a unique version of the DVLA with a different approach to driver and vehicle licensing does take place within the UK already.

Unpicking UK-wide motoring services from many providers is also likely to be time consuming and problematic. From driver training charities like my own, to car sales networks, leasing companies, satnav providers, insurance companies etc, will all need to chart a new business plan for their Scottish activities in the EU. The MOT test and most other vehicle safety-related issues in the UK are ahead of EU minimum standards so no real changes would be needed here.

However, the UK has not ratified the most recent GSR2 (general safety regulation) on new car safety standards. If this remains the case it is possible that if Scotland did re-join the EU new cars would be sold to different standards north of the Border. This is good news for road safety but very confusing for the car market. For example, Scottish new cars might have to have standard features such as speed limiters when those sold in England do not.

The pothole backlog here has now reached £1.7 billion and IAM RoadSmart can see no reason why re-joining the EU would actually help attack this problem. The EU has tended to focus most of its infrastructure investment in the east of Europe in recent years. Those EU badged road projects we were used to in Scotland had become much thinner on the ground long before Brexit. Scotland might get more money for major European networks called TERNs (Trans-European Networks) – for example, Ireland across to the Baltic via Stranraer and Rosyth. North to south routes to England are unlikely to be funded by the EU.


The eastern European focus of the EU means that there are no guarantees that Scotland’s roads would benefit from any substantial increase in support to make them fit for the future.

Cycling is still a tiny part of the transport mix in Scotland and it will take many years to match the facilities found in countries, such as Denmark or Holland. In European terms Scotland has low car ownership but high car use underlining the need to develop attractive public transport and active travel alternatives.

That can only be done by shifting funds from other areas and that is a huge challenge whatever happens. Scotland doesn’t have to re-join the EU to know what proper segregated cycle infrastructure looks like – and it doesn’t don’t look much like the cheap and nasty temporary facilities we have seen spring up on the back of the pandemic!

The EU has broadly similar targets to Scotland on policies such as phasing out new fossil fuelled cars. 2035 is the key date across the EU for ending petrol and diesel in new cars, a few years later than Scotland has suggested so changes may have to be made there. Fuel supplies in Scotland tend to come from Grangemouth but other supplies do come over the Border so there may be cost issues to be considered there. On policies such as reducing car mileage by 2030 Scotland is actually ahead of the EU. We also have road safety targets here already when they are not applied in England. At least in Scotland we appear to be heading for renewable electricity independence so electric cars should be okay from domestic sources. Autonomous cars are also likely to be developed on a Europe-wide basis, but again if England chose different standards then a situation could develop where “car to car”and “car to infrastructure” connectivity might not work.

Ease of accessing Scotland by car for tourism could also become a key issue. If visitors have to complete different paperwork to transit England to get to the Highlands then they may just decide to go elsewhere.

New European ferry routes into Scotland could be one way round this. Support for the most remote areas of Scotland could be a plus under various EU programmes. Fuel price reductions are one example of help for the remotest areas.

One of the toughest debates might be around the future of car taxation. As fossil fuel use goes down, income from fuel tax declines and will have to be replaced by something else. The EU may come up with a plan of its own that it would expect Scotland to adopt. This might include road pricing or “pay per mile”, with different tariffs at peak times. Disentangling Scotland fairly and equitably from the current system is going to be complex and then investment may be needed to fit black boxes inside cars to monitor travel.

If the system in Scotland was no longer compatible with England this would add another level of complexity. In many parts of the EU drivers already have to pay a visitor tax or buy a permit so that the country they visit gets some tax out of them. Add in the growth of new low emission zones with different regulations, detection systems and permits and travelling around the UK could quickly become far from simple.

Neil Greig is director of policy and research with road safety charity IAM RoadSmart.