The Scottish National Party Fractures
Just a couple of years ago the Scottish National Party (SNP) was riding high in the polls and it seemed that party leader Alex Salmond could do no wrong. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament the SNP even won a majority, which in a PR system is quite an achievement. Salmond began to press the UK government for a referendum on Scottish independence from the rest of the UK and in the last few weeks achieved an agreement on a poll in 2014 with a single “yes” or “no” question.
However, suddenly it has all started to go wrong for the Nationalists. A wave of resignations from the party has rocked it to its roots and are poised to deprive Salmond of his hard won majority in the Scottish Parliament. The root cause for most of this discontent is the repositioning of the party from one to the left of Labour, to a more centrist and less threatening party of Social Democracy. Under Salmond the SNP has abandoned its intent to become a republic, abandon the Pound Sterling and leave NATO. It is the latter change which appears to have caused the most angst amongst the old left wing of the SNP. The SNP has long been a Unilateralist party committed to abandoning nuclear weapons and withdrawal from NATO which is underpinned by the US nuclear defence guarantee.
Since the party narrowly voted to change its policy and remain in NATO if Scotland were to vote for independence many party members have resigned in protest. Unfortunately for Salmond and the SNP some of them are elected politicians. Two MSPs John Finnie and Jean Urquart have resigned the SNP whip and reports suggest that more are soon to follow. One high profile Councillor Frances McGlinchy resigned from the party last week. She is the wife of MSP John Wilson and he is rumoured to be about to follow her out of the party. If he does, the SNP will lose its majority.
Salmond’s problems mounted further when it appeared that he had been misleading party members and the media over advice he said he had received over whether an independent Scotland could remain in the EU or would have to reapply for membership. On a number of occasions Salmond gave the impression that he had sought and received legal advice that Scotland would automatically remain in the EU as it was a “successor state to the UK”. He has now been forced to admit that no such advice has been received. Indeed the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso has stated that an independent Scotland would have to reapply for membership. A decision on which the remaining UK would have a veto! Salmond’s alleged lies have cause another senior resignation from the party. Adil Bhatti, a former SNP national council member, has left accusing Salmond of lying.
There is a long way to go until the referendum in 2014 but the once seemingly invincible Alex Salmond is now looking very fallible. If the SNP can now stem the flow of resignations and unite behind the independence case then they may put this episode behind them but Salmond is now damaged goods in the eyes of many party members and a divided party rarely wins any election.
All those of us who want to see the UK remain a United Kingdom should hope that the SNP has now passed its peak of popularity and that the people of Scotland vote clearly not to divide this island.