Highlands and Islands MSPs John Finnie and Jean Urquhart have announced they have quit the Scottish National Party in protest over the party conference’s decision over the weekend to reverse its position on renouncing NATO membership.
On Friday, party members gathering in Perth voted by 394 votes to 365 to approve a motion proposed by the party’s defence spokesman, Angus Robertson MP, that an independent Scotland should be a full member of NATO whilst maintaining the party’s strong opposition to nuclear weapons.
Arguing such a policy was essential for Scotland to have confidence it could, if it voted for independence, play a full role on the world stage, Robertson argued before the debate:
“It is in Scotland’s national interest, as well as our foreign and defence policy interest to remain within Nato, as a member that does not host nuclear weapons.
“It is important for the Scottish public to have confidence that an SNP-led independent Scotland will have the appropriate defence and national security priorities.
“It is also essential for our neighbours and allies to understand we will live up to our mutual defence and co-operation commitments and we will be a trusted and valued full partner.”
The debate that ensued, however, saw party members bitterly divided, with many hostile to the motion, arguing it was not possible to maintain an anti-nuclear stance whilst simultaneously being in favour of NATO membership.
Speaking prior to the motion being passed, John Finnie told BBC Radio Scotland:
“Joining a first strike nuclear alliance is not going to be how we rid ourselves of the obscenity of hosting the UK’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. The priority of the Scottish National Party, warmly endorsed by the Scottish people, was to rid ourselves of these vile weapons of mass indiscriminate civilian slaughter.”
Meanwhile, in what The Scotsman dubbed an “emotional” speech against the motion, Jean Urquhart told delegates at the conference:
“(When I joined the SNP) a lot of people thought I was a rebel. People said you’ve joined what?…. This summer I was called a rebel for supporting party policy. Angus Robertson described NATO as a sound organisation. We have to ask ourselves, why have we not endorsed that sound organisation for 30 years?”
Arguing the party could not have it both ways in supporting NATO and being against nuclear weapons, she continued:
“We have to decide we are going to tie ourselves to one set of allies forever. That’s how it works. Look at who we will turn to stand beside and look at those we will turn our backs on. Choose NATO or multilateralism.”
Whilst losing MSPs in this way is never good for any party, it will be a particular blow for the SNP which, as a result of the development, has seen its majority effectively reduced to one.
Having won the Scottish Parliamentary elections by grabbing 69 out of 129 seats at Holyrood, the election of the SNP MSP, Tricia Marwick, as Presiding Officer effectively lost the SNP a vote whilst in March, Bill Walker MSP was suspended from the party over allegations around domestic abuse. Coupled with the latest resignations, that gives the SNP 65 out of 129 seats, a majority of one.
Outlining his reasons for leaving, John Finnie has today said:
“I cannot continue to belong to a party that quite rightly does not wish to hold nuclear weapons on its soil, but wants to join a first strike nuclear alliance.
“Although I envisage that I will continue to share common ground with the SNP on many issues, I cannot in good conscience continue to take the party whip.”
While Ms Urquhart explained:
“We are both steadfast in our belief that Scotland should be an independent country, and will actively and positively campaign for a Yes vote in 2014.
“We believe in an independent Scotland, not a NATO-dependent Scotland.”
Responding to the announcement, SNP leader and first minister, Alex Salmond, commented:
“I’m saddened that Jean and John have decided to resign from the party. They have been excellent servants to the SNP, and I’m grateful to them for their tireless efforts.
“We had an excellent and democratic debate at party conference last Friday, and agreed a policy of reaffirming our opposition to nuclear weapons as a non-nuclear member of the NATO alliance – a position that will be accepted by the party as a whole.
“Jean and John have indicated to me that they will continue to support the government from the back benches, and I welcome that. I also look forward to working with them both in the campaign to achieve a Yes vote in Scotland’s referendum in 2014.”