Edinburgh would benefit more from independence now than in 2014, claims SNP deputy leader

A YES vote in a new independence referendum would offer bigger opportunities for Edinburgh than at the time of the original vote in 2014, SNP deputy leader Keith Brown has claimed.

Friday, 26th April 2019, 6:00 am
Pic: Neil Hanna Photography

The Nationalists’ number two, who grew up in the Capital, claimed if the rest of the UK is outside the European Union, firms looking to relocate from England could choose to move here. “It’s a massive opportunity in a way it wasn’t necessarily in 2014,” he says.

“Just after the Brexit result, everyone was wanting to find an English-speaking part of the EU. Dublin was the obvious place of choice for many companies but Dublin has its own issues with its infrastructure. I think Edinburgh could stand to benefit absolutely hugely even now, two years after it has happened.”

His comments follow First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement on Wednesday that she wants to hold a second independence referendum before the next Holyrood elections in 2021 and will seek to pass the necessary legislation this year before asking the UK government for the powers to let it go ahead. Edinburgh voted 61 per cent against independence in 2014, but Mr Brown believes that could change.

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He pointed out the Capital had the highest Remain vote in the 2016 EU referendum and said many people, such as university staff and EU nationals, had believed the way to safeguard Scotland’s place in Europe was to vote No but no longer took that view.

“I think perhaps we should also spell out more effectively what the benefits for Edinburgh are,” he says.

“Edinburgh needs to have population growth, it needs EU nationals. When I wandered down Leith Walk when I was ten or 11 – that’s where all the jeans shops were – it was a very different experience from the way it is now.

“The way it is now is fantastic – Polish shops, Lithuanian people. I always thought Leith Walk was one of the great boulevards of the world. The nature of Edinburgh has changed – when I was a kid you could walk along Princes Street and the cliche was you’d meet at least two people you knew. It’s so different now and I think so much better, it’s cosmopolitan.

“But I think Brexit has the capability to strangle Edinburgh’s growth and development.

“Both independence and remaining in the EU offer the opportunity to help it grow –and that’s before you talk about the financial sector and the diplomatic boost Edinburgh would get from independence.”

Amid all the uncertainty over Brexit, European elections next month, calls for a second EU referendum, the likelihood of a change of prime minister and the possibility of general election, trying to fit a new independence referendum campaign into the picture before 2021 might seem ambitious.

Mr Brown acknowledges the uncertainty makes everything difficult. But he says: “What Nicola has said is we’ll bash on with the first part of the process, taking us through the preparations for a framework for a referendum. If that work’s done first then there is enough time to have the referendum. We could lose the opportunity by default if we don’t do things now. We can’t sit back and allow the opportunity for Scotland to have a choice to slip us by.”

And although Theresa May has insisted she will not grant the Section 30 order which Holyrood needs to hold a referendum, he claims it will “completely unsustainable” for the UK government to continue to refuse it.

“I’m sure the posture will continue for some time, but if they were then to dig their heels in I think you would see a real growing resentment. I think the pressure would be too great for them to sustain a blanket refusal.”

And he is not deterred by the polls, most of which show little change in the level of support for independence since 2014.

“Some recent polls have shown 52 per cent support for independence as compared to a no-deal Brexit and 53 per cent support as compared to Theresa May’s deal.

“We started off around 25 per cent in the last referendum and grew to 45 per cent and you now have a much more established and embedded independence movement which would be able to increase the current support for independence even further.

“Support for independence has never gone backwards – that shows an extraordinary resilience in the independence vote and I think it’s perfectly possible to grow that to a winning position.”

Some believe the chaos of the Brexit process will put voters off the idea of any other major constitutional change because of the upheaval it would bring. But Mr Brown rejects the idea.

There are big differences between Brexit and independence, he insists. “Any number of countries have become independent and the vast majority pretty straightforwardly, many of them from the UK. But this is the first time anyone has sought to leave the EU, so it is a different proposition.”

Criticising Mrs May, he added: “I would think we want to make it plain that if there’s a vote for independence we do not suddenly concentrate just on those who voted for it. It would have to be looking towards everybody in Scotland.”