Alex Neil reveals he and ‘a number’ of SNP MSPs backed Brexit

Former Cabinet secretary Alex Neil. Picture: John Devlin
Former Cabinet secretary Alex Neil. Picture: John Devlin
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A former Scottish Government minister has revealed that he and a number of other SNP MSPs secretly voted to leave the European Union (EU).

Alex Neil, who served as health secretary under Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, told the Daily Telegraph he had decided to back Brexit 10 days before the referendum on June 23.

His position is in stark contrast to the strong support the party and leader Ms Sturgeon have expressed for remaining in the EU.

Mr Neil told the newspaper his decision had been influenced by the growth of right-wing parties in Europe, the way Greece and Portugal had been treated by the bloc and the tone of the Remain campaign.

He said: “In the last 10 days of the campaign I was persuaded and (former chancellor) George Osborne just tipped me over with his emergency budget. I saw the scaremongering and there was no way I was going to endorse it.

“I was not going to vote for George Osborne and David Cameron’s scare campaign.

“There’s a number of my colleagues who have spoken to me privately who did the same. They don’t want to broadcast it. They were betwixt and between, and they voted Leave.”

The Airdrie and Shotts MSP, who stepped down from the cabinet after May’s Holyrood election, also warned that tying Scottish independence to EU membership risked alienating supporters.

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He said: “A proportion may not well vote for independence. Anecdotally, a lot of them have hardened their position.

“A lot of them don’t understand why we don’t want to be run by London and would rather be run by Brussels.”

Mr Neil was pressed on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme to say how many of his colleagues had backed Brexit.

He responded: “There are 63 members of the parliamentary group and I’ve only talked to one or two people who told me that, they had approached me.”

The MSP said he had not revealed his position publicly before the vote “out of deference to the First Minister and to the SNP government”.

“The party’s position, the government’s position, was very clear and, quite frankly, out of loyalty I didn’t think it was right for me at that stage to say so.”

He insisted he had faced no reproach or reprimand for his views, adding: “The SNP has over 120,000 members. Clearly, like every other party, there are people who disagree with the majority position in the party. I’m one of them.”

Mr Neil, member of a new cross-party group in Holyrood to examine the implications of Brexit for Scotland, has previously argued Ms Sturgeon should use Brexit to secure a swathe of new powers for Scotland and bring about ‘’neo-independence’’.

Asked whether he was supportive of Ms Sturgeon’s position that Scotland should remain part of the EU, he said: “What the First Minister is saying the key thing is access to the single market and I absolutely support that.

“I also totally support the view that the devolved administrations including the Scottish Government have to be at the top table in the Brexit negotiations.”