BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Scots must vote to keep Britain in the European Union or risk social rights protected by the EU being eroded under the “tender mercies” of post-Brexit London governments, a Scottish minister said on Tuesday.
Visiting Brussels after last week being named Europe minister in the devolved Scottish government, Alasdair Allan told Reuters a British vote next month to leave the EU could jeopardise trade and labour rights cherished by Scots and would lead to new calls for independence.
His remarks highlighted a leftward slant in Scottish politics - also a feature of Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum - as well as expectations that Scots will vote heavily in favour of remaining in the EU.
The 84 percent of the UK electorate living in England, where the referendum debate has split the governing Conservatives and prompted accusations of scare-mongering on both sides, is more evenly divided.
Noting cross-party support in Scotland for staying in the EU, Allan said the Scottish National Party (SNP) of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon - reappointed following elections to the Scottish parliament on May 5 - would stress the benefits of membership in campaigning for the June 23 referendum.
It was not just about trade, but also “a range of rights that we’ve got from Europe that we couldn’t be certain that Scotland would get if we were left to the tender mercies of the UK,” Allan said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron may have to quit if he loses his campaign to stay in the EU, but the eurosceptic right wing of his Conservative party would hold a powerful position in the British parliament, where the Labour opposition was weakened by a heavy loss of seats in Scotland last year to the SNP.
While reluctant to comment on how the Scottish government would react to a vote for Brexit, Allan restated that this would revive pressure for a new referendum on breaking up the United Kingdom less than two years after Scots rejected that by a 55-45 margin in what was billed as a “once in a generation” decision.
“If Scotland is taken out of the European Union against the will of her people as expressed in the referendum that will certainly increase the pressure ...for independence in future,” he said.
He declined comment on the timing of a new secession vote.
Asked whether EU leaders, who cold-shouldered Scotland’s bid to secede in 2014, would be more willing to welcome an independent Scotland into the EU in the event of Brexit, he said “Scotland has friends around Europe” but it was premature to discuss it.
Spain, Belgium and other states with secessionist opponents fear Scottish independence could set an unwelcome precedent.
Allan declined comment on whether the Scottish government may consider a legal challenge to Brexit. Cameron rejected an SNP call for Scotland to have an effective veto in the matter.
If Britain remains in the bloc, Allan said he would press for a greater direct Scottish role in EU affairs, for example during the six-month British presidency of EU ministerial councils starting in July 2017. With Scotland accounting for much of Britain’s fishing industry, he said, a minister in the Scottish government might chair EU meetings on the issue.
Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; @macdonaldrtr; editing by John Stonestreet