EU withdrawal could prompt McLeish indy switch

Former First Minister would "reconsider" position post-2014

by Jan 27, 2013 6 Comments

Former First Minister and Scottish Labour stalwart, Henry McLeish, has said he would be “very strongly inclined” to shift his stance on independence should the United Kingdom withdraw from the European Union.

McLeish, who led the Scottish Executive between 2000 and 2001, told Holyrood a Conservative government at Westminster risked forcing Scots, including himself, to reconsider their appraisal of separation if a departure from the EU became a reality.

Asked whether he himself could envisage backing independence if there were to be another referendum on independence following EU withdrawal, McLeish said: “I would be very strongly inclined to change my role.” His comments come after Prime Minister David Cameron last week promised to hold an in/out referendum on the UK’s place in Europe before 2018 if he wins the next election, expected in 2015.

Though McLeish insisted the threat of pulling out would not sway his vote in next year’s poll on Scotland’s constitutional future, he admitted making a choice on whether to back the Union further down the line would not prove so straightforward.

“The current government at Westminster is actually frightening the lives out of many Scots with their crazy, dated right-wing approach,” he told Holyrood.

“And it’s quite clear that if – it’s not going to be before this [independence] referendum – but if the Tories are successful and Britain comes out of the EU, this I believe will shock enough people in Scotland to consider voting for independence post-2014.

“I would be very strongly inclined to want to be in Europe and to want to have nothing to do with a Union or United Kingdom that was not in the European Union. I would be reconsidering my position if that eventuality happened after 2014.

“But the key issue for now is, will the political opportunism on the part of Cameron influence some voters before the 2014 referendum poll. And the reason for saying that is I think Scots overall are better disposed to the EU than England currently is.

“So, I think David Cameron is playing with fire, this is an own goal for the Conservatives who want to retain the Union and I fear that a lot of people in Scotland will reconsider their position if the horrendous eventuality happens that the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. And I for one have spoken to many people in the Labour Party and elsewhere and this would be a defining issue for all of us, and I certainly would reconsider my position if after 2014 Britain ever came out of the EU.”

Alan Robertson Alan Robertson

A graduate in Politics and Journalism from the University of Strathclyde, Alan joined the Holyrood team as a reporter in May 2012 fresh from finishing his studies. Alan spent four years in student media, the last of which helping to launch the award-winning Glasgow Journal as Managing Editor, and continues to work part-time as a sub-editor in sport for the Sunday...


  1. Kieran

    I’m sick fed up with independence being called “separation”.

  2. Angus McPhee

    You are supposed to close the Stable Door before the Horse Bots Henry

  3. Angus McPhee

    “Bolts” :0

  4. Iain MacIlleChiar

    Henry McLeish could still have a valuable part to play in the body politic of post-independence Scotland if he continues his drift away from unthinking unionism in time.

  5. Sandy Miller

    This comment from Henry McLeish may be welcome but means very little. To say he would change his position with regard to independence if UK were to pull out of Europe would be meaningless are the chances of another referendum on independence would be pretty remote.

  6. Iain MacLaren

    There will be no more referenda on Scottish constitutional matters after 2014, Henry. Unfortunately a ‘No’ vote then will bury any such prospect and indeed lead probably to the gradual dismantling of what limited powers the devolved government currently has since those in the Westminster mindset will take it as an endorsement of a ‘strong’ Union and see it as time called after the Scots have had their wee bit of fun running the place.

    Sadly, political events don’t often come in the sequence we would like and the decision has to be made in 2014. By voting ‘No’ at that stage you are effectively risking Scottish EU membership to the numerically larger English electorate. If EU membership is important to you, then you have little option but to vote ‘Yes’.

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