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United Kingdom European Union Scotland Referendum

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Brexit: Remain strong in Scotland ahead of EU referendum

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A Remain campigners leaflets before Thursday's referendum Reuters/Kevin Coombs

The vote to stay in the European Union in Thursday's referendum is likely to be overwhelming in Scotland. If Britain does vote for Brexit, Scottish pro-independence forces are gearing up for a repetition of the 2014 referendum on whether Sotland stays in the UK.


"Tell me about what’s happened to Greece,” says Ian Morse, an activist for Vote Leave who trying to convince passersby to vote against the EU.

“Greece has been destroyed by the EU. We are tired of EU regulations. We are tired of bureaucrats who are not democratically elected, we are tired of the cost of the whole thing,” he fulminates.

Morse is part of what he calls a “substantive” minority in Scotland.

Majority sentiment in Edinburgh seems favourable to remaining inside the EU.

“So to say that we want control back, that we want democracy back, that we sovereignty back makes no sense,” says Mona Siddiqi, a professor of Islamic Studies with the University of Edinburgh, who doubles as the chairwoman for the advisory committee of Scotland’s’ Remain (in Europe) campaign.

“By being part of a club, which offers us benefits, as well as compromises that we make, but then everybody makes such compromises, I think that by staying in we are more advantaged than disadvantaged,” she says.

Polls show massive Europhilia

The hundreds of opinion polls carried out since the beginning of this year point at massive Scottish support in favour of the EU.

“There is no significant political figure in Scotland in any of the political parties or in civil society who is advocating a Brexit vote,” says Andrew Scott, an economist with the University of Edinburgh.

And there’s more.

The Scottish economy enjoys benefits in agriculture and fisheries and its main source of income, oil and gas, thrives thanks to foreign investment.

Many believe a Brexit vote would be a final blow to the Scottish economy, which has been suffering as a result of the global financial crisis and, more recently, the falling oil prices.

Aberdeen anxious over oil

A Brexit “would come down to first to immediate things like the values of currency, like barriers to trade, and barriers to people,” says Barney Crocket, who is in charge of energy policy on Aberdeen city council.

“We have a very internationalised workforce here, that relies on rapid movement, we have a sizeable French population in the city, we have a French lycée in the city, we looked to build these relationships and certainly not to loose them,” he says.

But there is no fallback plan.

“I think we have been very reluctant to think about Plan B,” says Crocket. “Because really the damages are so great, we didn’t like it. But we would be keen to keep as many structures working as possible."

Brexit would boost Scottish nationalists

In the scenario that a majority in the UK votes to leave the European Union, politicians of the Scottish National Party are thinking of pushing for a new referendum on Scottish independence.

Scottish independence was rejected by a 55-45 percent in a 2014 vote.

A UK-wide Brexit vote will give new arguments to the Scottish independence movement but both Leave and Remain supporers have their doubts about another Scottish independence referendum.

“If Britain leaves the EU, Scotland will stay in the union with England,” says Ian Morse, of the Leave campaign “Because the Scottish National Party does not have enough money to go for independence. And the people of Scotland realise that. The oil money is not sufficient.”

Instead, he says that the SNP should campaign to leave the EU.

“They hope to accentuate the differences between Scotland and England. They should really be campaigning to leave the EU, because in that way they will get a lot more powers delegated to them from the European parliament,” he argues.

But this too, may complicate matters.

“If Brexit happens then a number of policies which are presently run from Brussels, agriculture and fishery, would be repatriated back to the UK,” agrees Andrew Scott of Edinburgh University. “And, under the terms of the Scotland act, both agriculture and fishing would default to the Scottish parliament.”

But, he says, this will create a tension with London.

“London may want to retain control of fishing policy. So I can see a Brexit vote not only triggering a kind of political moment for the SNP to look to a second referendum but I think it would trigger a wider constitutional moment where there would be a struggle for powers repatriated after Brexit, between Holyrood [the seat of the Scottish parliament in] and Westminster."