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

The former Holyrood minister told a newspaper he and several colleagues had voted against the EU.

Alex Neil: Former SNP minister backed Brexit.
Alex Neil: Former SNP minister backed Brexit. Danny Lawson / PA Archive/PA Images

A former SNP minister has said he voted for a Brexit against the party's official position.

Alex Neil, who served in Nicola Sturgeon's cabinet, told The Daily Telegraph that he had decided to vote Leave ten days before the vote, and said other party MSPs had told him they had done the same.

SNP party policy was to remain in the European Union, and Nicola Sturgeon campaigned prominently for Remain before the June 23 referendum.

But the Airdrie and Shotts parliamentarian was not convinced by the rhetoric and "scare campaign" of the Remain side, and decided to back a breakaway from Brussels.

"In the last ten days of the campaign I was persuaded and George Osborne just tipped me over with his emergency budget," he told the newspaper.

"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."

He also argued the austerity enforced upon other member countries such as Portugal and Greece had pushed him towards his decision.

A number of other SNP politicians also reported voted to leave but had not publicly revealed their choice, he claimed.

Neil said: "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 politician, who stepped down from his cabinet role in May, had previously claimed Nicola Sturgeon could use Brexit to secure new powers for Scotland and bring about "neo-independence".

Neil then urged the Scottish Government to exploit the "golden opportunity" presented by the vote to leave the European Union.

He is part of a new cross-party Holyrood group which will examine the vote's implications and its opportunities and dangers for Scotland.

The First Minister has pledged to "explore all options" to protect Scotland's interests in Europe and said another referendum on independence is "highly likely".

Writing in The Daily Telegraph last month, Neil instead urged SNP ministers to publish a list of demands including continued access to the single market and the transfer to Scotland of EU-related powers over farming, fishing, employment law, environmental protection, social policy and consumer protection.

Speaking on Scotland Tonight about the impact of the revelation, SNP MSP Ivan McKee said: "He should be more embarrassed than the party."

The SNP's manifesto for the 2016 Scottish Parliament election pledged to take a pro-EU stance.

It said: "We hope and believe that people in Scotland and across the UK will vote decisively to stay part of the EU. But we take nothing for granted. So we will campaign passionately and positively for an "in" vote, to remain in the EU."

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