Scotland politics

Former Scottish government minister Alex Neil voted for Brexit

Alex Neil Image copyright PA
Image caption Former Cabinet Secretary in Nicola Sturgeon's government, Alex Neil said he voted for Brexit

A former member of Nicola Sturgeon's Cabinet has said that he voted for Brexit and that other SNP MSPs did the same.

Alex Neil said the Scottish government's drive to be "run by Brussels" risked alienating him and others in the SNP.

Mr Neil stepped down as social justice secretary in May.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon questioned whether Mr Neil was right about other SNP MSPs voting Leave.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Alex Neil, who served as infrastructure secretary as well as health secretary, said that he decided 10 days before the 23 June poll to back Brexit.

'They'd approached me'

Mr Neil, the MSP for Airdrie and Shotts, told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme that he was "not in the game" of putting a number on the amount of SNP politicians that backed his stance.

He said: "There are 63 members of the (Scottish) parliamentary group, I've only talked to one or two people who have told me that. They'd approached me.

"I'm not in the game of having numbers or names or anything like that. If anyone else wants to say publicly that they voted leave, that was a matter for them."

Mr Neil said he kept his decision to himself in the run up to the vote "out of deference to the first minister".

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Media captionAlex Neil tells GMS why he voted to Leave the EU in the Referendum

He added: "I'd only recently left the SNP government and I wasn't going to rock the boat and I quite frankly didn't think it was all that important for me to say that at the time anyway.

"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."

'Uncertain times'

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the news of Mr Neil's Leave vote did not come "as any surprise".

She said: "He's entitled to his view. I'm not sure he's right about other MSPs, but the fact of the matter is Scotland voted to remain.

"62% of people who voted in Scotland voted to remain. I think its important to listen to the views of those who voted to leave, but my job now in very uncertain times is to do everything I can to protect the interests of Scotland."

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Media captionNicola Sturgeon says that Alex Neil is entitled to his opinion

The SNP's Westminster spokesman on Europe, Stephen Gethins, agreed that the views of Leave voters should be taken into consideration, but also emphasised the margin of Remain's victory north of the border.

He said: "Alex was a very good minister and I've got great respect for Alex but he's got his own opinions on Europe and they differ from my own and they differ from the Cabinet's own.

"They differ from 62% of the willed people of Scotland - the biggest gap between leave and remain.

"I've always said that we need to take on board the fact that a significant minority voted against membership of the European Union, but a majority voted for it."

'Redeem herself'

Mr Neil's admission over Brexit follows comments he made in August, when he maintained the UK vote to leave the European Union should be embraced by Scotland as an opportunity and that the vote could see new devolved powers for Holyrood.

Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman Adam Tomkins called on those SNP MSPs who backed Brexit to "show some gumption" and come forward.

He added: "In the Scottish Conservatives, we had Leavers and Remainers and MSPs were allowed to campaign on both sides.

"The SNP's 'silent Brexiteers' now need to come forward openly and let their constituents know how they voted."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said Mr Neil's stance was no real surprise "considering the first minister herself kept telling her supporters that we'd have another independence referendum if the UK voted to leave the EU".

He added: "Instead of gambling with the livelihood of those who will be negatively impacted by Brexit, the first minister can redeem herself if she joins the Liberal Democrats in helping keep the UK within the EU."

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