Highlands and Islands vote remain – but UK result sends shockwaves through the country

Flags_of_European_UnionVoters in the Highlands and Islands followed the Scottish trend and backed a Remain vote in the European Union referendum – although local figures were very much a secondary issue on a night when the UK-wide Leave vote sent shockwaves through the country.

In the Highlands and in the Western Isles there was support for remain, although by a margin narrower than in other parts of the country.

The Western Isles voted in favour of remain by 55.2 per cent to 44.8 per cent, while in the Highlands just over 70,000 of the 125,000 votes were cast backing EU membership – a 56-44 per cent victory.

As a whole Scotland voted 62-38 per cent in favour of Remain, but there is now huge uncertainty about what the UK result – 52-48 per cent for Leave – will mean for the Highlands and Islands and for Scotland.

Immediately SNP representatives opened the prospect of a second Scottish Independence referendum.

Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford said he was pleased Scotland had voted to stay within Europe, and warned that people “cannot be dragged out against our will.”

He added: “We have talked about what might trigger a future independence referendum. This is potentially a trigger, there is no secret that the SNP stands for independence for Scotland. It needs to be clear that the people see their future, Scotland’s future as an independent nation in Europe. None of us can look forward to see politics and the future of Government in Westminster. If the result from last night tells us anything, it is that Scotland and England are different countries. Time for us to accept our own responsibilities.”

Mr Blackford’s Holyrood colleague Kate Forbes said the EU was beneficial for the Highlands, and hoped the result would not threaten jobs, export prospects and payments to farmers.

She added: “The Highlands has a fragile economy and I am deeply concerned that the UK’s decision to leave might have a hugely detrimental impact on our rural economy.

“I continue to support Scotland being a member of the EU, and I believe it brings the Highland and Islands significant opportunities.

“It is absurd that we are now considering the implications of a leave vote when we in the Highlands voted to remain and know all too well the benefits of membership of the EU.”

Industry bodies for fishing and farming were among the first to issue comment.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “The result of the referendum brings both opportunities and challenges for the fishing industry and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation will be doing everything in its power to ensure that the best possible deal is achieved for fishing during the exit negotiations.

“To aid this process, it is vital that we have clarity from both the UK and Scottish Governments on their future intentions for fishing. Our national governments must work closely with the industry over the coming months and years to ensure that the right framework is put in place to deliver a prosperous future.”

NFU Scotland’s President Allan Bowie said: “The dramatic events of the past few hours will mark a period of great uncertainty for Scotland’s farmers and crofters. What is also clear is that the role of the Union in representing our members’ views and protecting their interests will rarely have been more important in our 103-year history.

“Farming and crofting are at the core of rural Scotland and the rural economy and our focus will very firmly be on ensuring that the negotiated exit from Europe and the Common Agricultural Policy and the domestic arrangements that are to replace them will see a profitable and competitive industry in Scotland.”