Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, Aberdeen, Inverness and Dundee all face a myriad of different threats from Brexit, the Scottish National Party (SNP) shadow minister for cities told an audience in Brussels this week.
Scotland voted universally to remain in the EU in June’s UK-wide referendum, bucking the overall 52% majority for Leave.
Instead, 62% of Scottish voters opted to stay in the EU, across all 32 local authorities, leaving the Scottish government in Edinburgh with the twin-pronged dilemma of seeking to influence London on its Brexit-planning, and contemplating a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Alison Thewliss, spokeswoman for cities, and only elected to Westminster last year, told a meeting of the Committee of the Regions that both a break in funding for local authorities, and a visa or work permit requirement would hit all of Scotland’s major cities –and even threaten the world-famous Edinburgh Festival.
Different cities face different threats, she told an audience of around 60 representing other regions across the EU.
Inverness, the country’s northernmost major city, faces a “demographic challenge”, needing to attract young people, whilst also facing a potential shortfall of £167m (€190m) in transition funding.
Perth, meanwhile, just north of the central Glasgow-Edinburgh axis, and a rural and historic urban centre is looking to replace a £85,000 (€97,000) rural enterprise grant, she told the audience, for Perth College.
Dundee, on the banks of the River Tay, was once known for “jute and journalism” (it is the home of the Dandy comic) is now a major centre for digital gaming, and worries about attracting foreign developers post-Brexit, Thewliss said.
Aberdeen, meanwhile, made prosperous on the back of the North Sea oil boom of the 1970s and 80s, is looking to transition away from fossil fuels and into offshore sea and wind projects, whilst Glasgow – once known as the ‘Second City of the British Empire’ – is now a major tourism and conference hub.
The city earned £601m (€684m) from tourism last year – something at risk if EU tourists require visas in future, Thewlis warned.
Edinburgh, the capital and home to the devolved Scottish Parliament since 1999, is heavily reliant on financial services, with the same risks attached to so-called ‘passporting’ rights as the City of London 400 miles to the south.
Edinburgh has benefited £36m (€41m) from the EU’s innovation programme Horizon 2020, which should be guaranteed by the government in London, but Thewliss pointed to the problems of the Edinburgh Festival, which as well as receiving funds from the EU, is dependent on large numbers of perfomers, musicians, actors and comedians requiring work visas, if freedom of movement ends under Brexit.
Finally, Stirling is wondering if its £1.5m (€1.7m) “sporting chance” initiative funding will continue after Brexit.
Nationwide, there was also the question of funding for youth employment schemes. Whilst Edinbugh, Aberdeen, and parts of Glasgow, are relatively prosperous, Scotland as a whole suffers from pockets of deep poverty and deprivation, and lower life-expectancy.
Thewliss pointed to the irony of the Brexit campaign winning under the slogan of “Take Back Control” whilst the UK parliament in London will actually “have less scrutiny over Brexit than the European Parliament.”
Another expert, Dr Andy Johnston of the LGiU in Edinburgh, pointed to worries within the UK’s Conservative government.
Telling the Committee of the Regions members he had travelled to Brussels directly from the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, Johnston said that although the mood might be quite “jubilant” among grassroot members, “it was quite sombre among [Conservative] local government leaders in the UK, who were – in general – quite in favour of Remain”.
It is these local authority leaders who will have to deliver many of the cuts from projects previously funded or part-funded by the EU “and they have already seen a lot of austerity since 2009-10”, he said.
Both, however, agreed that Scotland had seen “less, if any” of the backlash and attacks against immigrants that have been witnessed across parts of England since the 23 June shock vote.