Scottish Nationalists Abandon Party Line on Brexit to Welcome Economic Opportunities

Scottish National Party
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Members of the Scottish National Party (SNP) have been breaking ranks over the party’s official line on Britain leaving the European Union, suggesting that the situation could offer “significant opportunities” for Scottish industry and the Scottish people.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has claimed that Brexit could lead to a “lost decade” for the UK, and has lobbying European leaders relentlessly over the last few months to allow Scotland to stay within the EU.

But addressing colleagues at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood last week, Alex Neil, an SNP member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) called for an end to “refighting the EU referendum”.

He insisted: “The challenge [before us] is to make the best for Scotland of Brexit. […] Our entire focus must be on what we do to plan for life outside EU membership.”

Criticising a government motion which stated that “Scotland’s interests are best served within the EU,” former Cabinet Secretary Mr Neil added: “That implies that we can remain in the EU, which I do not accept can happen. The decision has been taken and we must move on.”

He has been joined by John Cox, the Aberdeenshire councillor for Banff and District, the Press and Journal has reported.

Responding to a report warning that Aberdeenshire Council had been burdened with an £11million black hole by the vote to leave the EU, Mr Cox said: “The report is a very doom and gloom presentation built on assumptions.

“There are significant opportunities and I will be asking the council to put more thought on looking at these opportunities after Brexit.”

Speaking yesterday, he reaffirmed his opinion that leaving the EU provided “significant opportunities”, particularly for the beleaguered fishing industry.

He suggested that the ability to scrap the burdensome Common Fisheries Policy could lead to a renaissance in the north-east’s trawler fleet, creating thousands of jobs.

“The direction of travel is that we are leaving the EU. If that is what is going to happen, then we have got to focus on the opportunities,” he said.

“It’s not going against any party policies to look over the horizon to find the best opportunities in this situation.

“What we don’t want to do is spend the next two or three years arguing about the threats. We need to put as much energy into the positive as the fear factor.”

Peter Chapman, a Conservative MSP, has welcomed the comments and praised the two men for daring to break ranks with their party over Brexit.

He said: “I am pleased to see some common sense at last on Brexit from the former Cabinet Secretary and a prominent local SNP councillor up here in Banffshire and Buchan.

“Their comments may be perceived as off-message for the party and are certainly not in line with the sabre-rattling rhetoric we have heard from Nicola Sturgeon.

“It is not often that SNP politicians break ranks, but Mr Cox and Mr Neil should be praised for showing a bit of leadership and making their own views heard.”

Follow Donna Rachel Edmunds on Twitter: or e-mail to: