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Independents for Independence

23/10/2012

This was the kind of day that moves a man to dust the blog off – if only for an evening, as the SNP Leadership’s victory over NATO finally drove SNP stalwarts John Finnie and Jean Urquhart (now both MSPs for the Highlands and Islands, of course) to quit the party.

For clarity, I should say that had I been at the Conference this year, I’d have voted with the Leadership, though not for the reasons that were apparently being put forward, which if reports from Perth were a fair reflection of the case being made, centred around electability than anything else.

No, I’d have said ‘Yes’ to NATO because I think it’s right. Firstly, on the nuclear argument, I would want Scotland (and, indeed, the world) to be nuclear-free. But we won’t get that by clinging onto a 1980s view of the world, and NATO and nuclear weapons no longer map onto one another comfortably: one can be in NATO and non-nuclear; conversely, leaving NATO is no guarantee that Scotland would get rid of Trident.

Scotland becoming independent won’t change the rest of the world, and at times, there’ll still be a need for countries in the developed world to stand up and be counted to help (in whatever way necessary) those who need it, whether that be humanitarian peacekeeping exercises, or, as a last resort, some form of military action, followed by KFOR/ISAF-style work. Now, it’s one thing to baulk at combat operations. It’s another to turn your back on the rest of the package,and SNP members pride themselves on being not just Nationalists, but Internationalists, wanting Scotland to step up and play a full, direct part in the international community. I agree with that sentiment – that’s why I’d have voted yes to NATO.

But there were enough who didn’t feel that way (and they weren’t assuaged by the sight of SNP Parliamentarians citing opinion polls) and for two MSPs, it has got too much and they had to go. SNP reaction is divided: some respect them for sticking to their principles, wish that they didn’t have to do this, and wish them well; others agree with them but wish they’d remained in the Party to change it (back) from within; others are exasperated that they’ve reacted in such a way to a vote taken in Conference; while others still are now appalled that they’ve left at a time when their voices are needed more than ever on the way to 2014.

I don’t know what to think. As someone who left Labour over top-up fees, I sympathise, and as they’re sticking with Yes Scotland, they’ll still be valued, valuable friends. And yes, they were elected as SNP MSPs, but on a 2011 platform which included withdrawl from NATO. They are sticking to that platform. So while I disagree with them, I wish them well.

And it’s also worth pointing out that precedent would be against them resigning their seats: Dorothy-Grace Elder and Margo MacDonald did not resign in Session 1, nor did Campbell Martin, Brian Monteith or Tommy Sheridan and Rosemary Byrne (who went and formed a whole new party) in Session 2. Also, anything that diversifies the Yes campaign, which absolutely has to be more than the SNP Frontbench under a different banner, has to be good. Just as there are different visions of what Scotland should look like in the Union (though Labour aren’t articulating theirs and Hell will freeze over before the LibDem one becomes reality – there’ll just be another Commission in ten years time when it’ll be watered down again), there should be different visions of what Scotland could look like outside the Union, the idea being that any of these visions, or one still to be had, could be made reality if Scotland’s people support it.

PS If they wanted to, they could band together with Margo and the Greens to form a Parliamentary group not unlike the one founded by Independents and the SSCUP’s John Swinburne in the second Parliament (we will dismiss Bill Walker as persona non grata). It would have five Members and so qualify for a place on the Bureau (note to political reporters: that’s the Bureau and NOT the Corporate Body, which is a different entity with a different purpose, whose members are elected in a different way), and as the same size as the LibDem group, would surely be entitled to regular representation at FMQs as well…

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