A major SNP donor has contradicted Nicola Sturgeon’s claims that Brexit will cost the Scottish economy billions by saying leaving is “not as big a deal as people are making out”.
Sir Brian Souter, the Perthshire-based transport tycoon and one of the party’s most high-profile supporters, said the negative impact of leaving the EU is being “over-estimated”.
Speaking to a Virgin Start-Up meeting in Edinburgh, the Stagecoach chairman questioned whether the UK’s political leaders were up to the task of forging new trade links that are now possible.
He was reported as saying: “I am not so negative on Brexit as others seem to be. There will be some challenges, but our currency has adjusted…I just think we are overestimating the damage.
“Provided we get a settlement for our financial services sector we could be in a positive place.”
He added: “It [Brexit] is not as big a deal as people think. It will not have the impact that the financial crash, or a war in the Middle East will have on us.”
Sir Brian, who said he was not a Brexiteer and was unsure which way to vote on June 23, said both sides of the EU referendum campaign were “hysterical and polarised” and believes that suspicions over politicians and the EU led to victory for the Leave side.
“There is a whole world of trade relationships out there,” he added.
“The question is whether we have the guts to make our own way in the world now we are out of this club.”
A Scottish Government analysis warned that Brexit could cost the Scottish economy up to £11bn a year by 2030.
Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservative MSP, accused the SNP of “doom-mongering about Brexit since day one” to build up support for a breakaway from the UK.
“Sir Brian’s intervention is therefore very welcome and adds a much needed dose of reality to the debate,” he said.
“Brexit presents both challenges and opportunities to Scotland and the UK.
“It is time the SNP acknowledged that – and further accepted that its reckless attempt to pull Scotland out of the UK represents the real danger to our interests and our position in the world.”
An SNP spokesman reinforced the party’s clash of thoughts on Brexit with Sir Brian, who has donated millions of pounds to the Nationalists.
“Brexit is far and away the biggest threat to Scotland’s economy, jobs and long-term prosperity, with a potential cost of up to £11.2 billion per year by 2030 and up to 80,000 lost jobs over the next decade,” he said.
“Sir Brian is one of Scotland’s biggest business success stories, and he is right to highlight the challenges involved in getting a solution for our financial services industry – something which is true for every other sector of the economy as well.”