The clear division between Scotland and the rest of mainland Britain in the Brexit vote will not immediately lead to another vote on Scotland’s position within the UK.
According to law firm leaders north of the border, the fact that the UK will now begin the process of leaving the EU despite Scotland voting overwhelmingly to remain does not mean another independence referendum is definitely on the cards.
While Scotland’s pro-independence first minister Nicola Sturgeon stressed this morning that “the vote here makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union,” Harper Macleod chief executive Martin Darroch said another independence vote would be unlikely to happen until it is clear what a post-Brexit EU will look like.
“There now isn’t the EU that we had yesterday because Britain is going to be out of it,” he said. “Parties of a particular persuasion in Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and France are coming out and saying they should have their own referendum. If that happens and if any other countries say they want to go for it too then we’ll have a European Union with very significant uncertainty.”
Morton Fraser chief executive Chris Harte said that as a clear picture of the UK’s future relationship with the EU will not emerge until two years after Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has been triggered, it will take longer than that period to reach a position where the “Scottish question” can be addressed.
“It’s very important that we can understand what the UK’s relationship with the EU looks like before reaching a view as to what the optimum relationship for Scotland in the rest of the UK is,” he said. “There’s a sequential aspect to it.”
Burness Paull chairman Philip Rodney noted that while the Brexit vote will lead to a period of uncertainty for Scottish and British businesses, the top priority now will be to ensure that the UK does not become isolated.
“Irrespective of the decision that’s been taken, Britain mustn’t be an isolationist country,” he said. “We must continue to engage with the world and work in partnership with our European neighbours.”
As with the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, when a lack of clarity on what the nation’s future would look like led to a fall off in corporate activity, the expectation is that transactional work will slow down until more details emerge of how the UK will trade with the EU once it ceases to be a member.
“There will be a pause as people work out what we will do, but how long that will take it is difficult to speculate,” says Rodney. “Inevitably businesses will have to reflect on how best to take forward their plans in a changed environment, but while we don’t know what engagement will look like, business will go on.”
Darroch agreed, noting that “transactions or investments that were just on the positive side of marginal won’t happen”.
“Whatever industry you’re in, if you’ve got to trade you’ve got to trade but you’ll only do it when you really believe that the upside is worth it,” he added.