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17 March 2017

What next for the SNP voters who voted Brexit?

If given a choice of independence from the UK or the EU, some may choose the former. 

By Julia Rampen

Standing in front of reporters at Bute House on Monday morning, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon quoted the Scottish National Party’s 2015 manifesto, which demanded the right to hold “another referendum” if there was “a significant and material change in the circumstances… such as Scotland being taken out the EU against our will”.

In the Sturgeon narrative, the Scots are good Remainers, who were willing to try any option to avoid a hard Brexit, and are now being dragged towards the Article 50 cliff. Why should we go, she asks, when there is an alternative – an independent Scotland nestled in the comforting framework of the EU?

Even if the Prime Minister, Theresa May, makes good her vow to block a second referendum until after Brexit, it follows that Scots unimpressed with a deal could still decide to quit the union in disgust.

But the SNP has a problem. 1,018,322 problems, to be exact.

Nearly two-fifths of Scottish voters wanted to leave the EU – significantly less than those south of the border, but significant all the same.

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And among Scottish National party voters, the figure could be 30-34 per cent, according to Gordon Wilson, who led the party from 1979 to 1990.

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He himself was broadly in favour of the EU, particularly the single market, but changed his mind during the EU referendum when he read about Sections 24 and 42 of the Lisbon Treaty.

“That changed my whole thinking,” he told me. “I saw immediately that those who were running the EU now had a treaty agreement for a formation of a super state with armed forces and embassies.

“That dramatically made independence different from a Europe dedicated to normal political activity.”

As for the SNP Leave voters not scrabbling through the small print of EU treaties, Wilson thinks the issues of immigration, the fisheries and the slogan “take back control” all played their part.

“Scotland is not really that different from England, although we might posture that,” he said.

Jim Sillars, a former SNP deputy leader, has accused Sturgeon and co of “hijacking” the independence movement by nailing her colours to the EU mast. He has argued that Scottish policymakers are already cramped by EU rules, for example on controlling alcohol prices, and would find a left-wing agenda blocked in future. Alex Neil, a former member of Sturgeon’s Cabinet, voted for Brexit.

The SNP leadership may be able to keep its Eurosceptic faction under the party umbrella. But there is another group that should give them cause for concern. One of the little-known trends noted by YouGov has been the swing among those who voted Yes to independence in 2014, but then voted to Leave in 2016. Among these voters, a quarter now say they would vote to stay in the union.

As for Wilson, despite voting Leave in the 2016 referendum, he would still vote for independence on the SNP’s current platform – “I probably would have to hold my fingers to my nose”. He simply believes that with Brexit unleashing chaos on the UK, the opportunity is too good to pass.