Jim Sillars: SNP members should back Brexit

Former deputy SNP leader Jim Sillars has spoken out about the Brexit issue. Picture: Julie Bull
Former deputy SNP leader Jim Sillars has spoken out about the Brexit issue. Picture: Julie Bull
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Senior SNP politicians could be ready to defy the party’s “iron discipline” and campaign for Scotland to leave the European Union in the forthcoming referendum, a former deputy party leader has said.

Jim Sillars said he did not believe there would be unanimity among the party’s MPs, MSPs and MEPs on the issue. The former Govan MP also said there was “no sense” in Nicola Sturgeon’s desire to leave the UK but then “surrender” power to another union in Brussels.

Mr Sillars spoke out at the launch of the Vote Leave campaign in Scotland, though he stressed he is not a member of that organisation. He joined Vote Leave Scottish director and former Labour MP Tom Harris on a visit to Port Glasgow, Inverclyde yesterday.

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Mr Sillars said he wanted the UK to leave the EU because this could make it easier for Scotland to become independent.

While the focus is currently on the Scottish Parliament elections on 5 May, Mr Sillars said: “I am hopeful that after the election the iron discipline of the SNP will start to dissolve.

“Maybe after the election, where this iron discipline has got to be maintained, we’ll get some people telling us what they really believe.

“I want Brexit for entirely different reasons from any other group campaigning at the moment, because I believe it will enable Scotland to become independent much easier than if we remain inside the United Kingdom inside the European Union.”

In the run-up to the 2014 referendum, the then European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said it would be “difficult if not impossible” for Scotland to join the EU after becoming an independent country.

Mr Sillars said: “There’s no good sense in taking independence from the UK and then surrendering even more sovereignty to the central organs of the EU – there are alternatives available to us.

“My fundamental objection, as well as having being told by them to get stuffed on independence, my fundamental objection lies in democracy.”

He argued there is an “unelected central organisation” in the EU, saying: “When you had 12 member states and the veto was in operation for all member states over a large area of policy, then the centre was constrained; when you have 28 members it strengthens the centre.

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“That is why we have got unelected people in the commission – nobody elected the guy who is in now, nobody elected Barroso before him. It’s an elite, and a self-selecting elite.”

Mr Sillars added: “My objection to the SNP policy is that if we remain in the United Kingdom, which remains inside the European Union, then the next time we have a referendum on independence we will have the European Union on the Better Together side saying, ‘You can’t get in, you can’t get in’, and therefore sowing uncertainty and fear.”

Mr Sillars also said that “as soon as Nicola Sturgeon went south of the Border to campaign for remaining in” the EU she had legitimised Prime Minister David Cameron’s position that the 23 June vote is a “whole UK referendum”.

The SNP leader has repeatedly warned that a second independence referendum could be triggered if Scotland votes to stay in the EU but the UK as a whole votes to leave.

But Mr Sillars said: “She might have had more traction in her argument if she had stayed north of the Border. As soon as you go south of the Border and campaign there, then you accept it’s an all-UK one.”

John Edward, senior campaign spokesman for Scotland Stronger In Europe, said Scotland benefits from increased investment, trade, jobs, growth and lower prices by being part of the EU.

He added: “Under Brexit, people in Scotland would lose the positive influence of Europe as powers flowed mainly to the government at Westminster.

“The Leave campaign are unable to define what Brexit would look like.”