NICOLA Sturgeon will lose an independence referendum if she links a Yes vote to Scotland going back into the European Union, a former SNP cabinet secretary has warned.

Alex Neil said said that if the First Minister wanted to win she would have to ditch a policy that combined the two issues in a “double referendum”.

The former Health Secretary said: “Mixing up the decision on independence with the issue of EU membership would scupper the chances of success in IndyRef2 just as the currency issue did in the 2014 independence referendum.” 

Mr Neil makes his comments in an article for the first part of Scotland’s Future, the Herald’s year-long series on the changing constitutional debate and issues facing devolved services. 

The only SNP MSP to publicly support Brexit, Mr Neil also said Ms Sturgeon’s policy would be disastrous for Scotland if voters did back independence in spite of it.

He said Brussels would ruthlessly exploit Ms Sturgeon’s mistake of promising to rejoin the EU without knowing the terms in advance.

EU negotiators would “eat an independent Scotland for breakfast” if it was “remotely stupid enough to sell the jerseys in this way”, Mr Neil said. 

The resulting customs problems would make those “around the Northern Ireland Protocol look like the proverbial Sunday School picnic”. 

Ms Sturgeon said last year she would not separate the two issues, saying a vote for Yes would lead automatically to Scotland returning to the EU.


Mr Neil, who resigned as an MSP last year, said that would be a “huge an unnecessary hostage to fortune which the No side will exploit to the full”.

He said: “Under Nicola’s scenario we would be asking people to vote for EU membership without the Scottish people knowing what they are being asked to vote for.

“We won’t know what concessions we will be forced to make on issues like fishing rights in Scottish waters in order to satisfy these 27 member states. 

“In effect we will be asking the Scottish people to sign a blank cheque to the EU and to endorse membership terms and conditions without knowing what they are. 

“No negotiator worth their salt would weaken Scotland’s bargaining position in this way.”

Mr Neil said that the two issues should be separated and a single-issue EU referendum held only after a Yes vote “once we know the details of the terms and conditions” of membership.

Until then, an independent Scotland could participate in the European Economic Area and access the EU single market as a member of the European Free Trade Association.

An SNP spokesperson said: “People in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU yet we were dragged out against our will.

“Brexit is now making us all poorer, it has caused untold damage to key Scottish industries and led to labour and supply shortages across the economy.

“Independence offers the people of Scotland the chance to repair the damage Brexit has caused by rejoining the world’s largest trading bloc, and restoring our freedom of movement with 27 other countries.

“Last May the people of Scotland returned the SNP to Government, with an increased vote share, on a clear manifesto commitment to hold an independence referendum that offers them a better future as an independent country in the EU.“