With First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calling for a second Scottish referendum on UK independence amid Scottish voters overwhelmingly backing a vote to remain in the EU by 62% to 38%, law firm leaders in Scotland have urged for composure in a region which is likely to see a longer period of uncertainty than the rest of the country.
Speaking to Legal Business, Martin Darroch, chief executive of Harper Macleod, said it was important there was an element of calm, due to the uncertain shape of Britain’s future relationship with the EU.
‘The world has not ended but for a business and legislative perspective I would suggest there will be a significant distraction for all businesses whether they export, import or are part of supply chains,’ he said. ‘It is a distraction from the core of what their business is, which is about being innovative and providing service.’
He added: ‘Everyone is talking about how it affects Scotland’s position in the UK. It is far too early genuinely to comment on that – yes it is a positive vote in Scotland for being part of the European Union, however what will the EU be like in a year or two years’ time?’
Chris Harte, chief executive of Morton Fraser, added: ‘What most of us would recognise is that there appears to be a material change in circumstances but that is a different thing to saying there is an immediate rush to a second [UK] referendum because I think you can only ask people to analyse that question once they have a better handle on what the settlement is for the UK.’
While it is expected that Scottish firms will see a slowdown across the board on all categories of work, the banking and real estate sectors are likely to see a bigger hit in the short to medium term. One managing partner reveals that for some clients in the banking industry, potential projects were contingent on the UK vote being to remain in EU.
‘I have no idea what is going to happen to those projects, whether they will be pulled or there will be a renegotiation for those clients. Those were significant investment projects.’
Another interesting factor is what impact the Brexit vote will have on any potential merger discussions between English-based firms and Scottish independents. However Stephen Gibb, chief executive of independent firm Shepherd and Wedderburn – who says the firm not currently engaged or in merger talks – does not believe it will have much of an impact.
‘I don’t know that it will affect it that much. Scotland is still a good market, it is a market where costs are relatively low compared to the City and where high-quality graduates are available in relation to the larger firms. And no matter what the ultimate outcome is, the English-based firms have been very clear in their international ambitions.’