Ministers bid to head off rebellion after MSPs quit SNP over Nato decision
Two MSPs quit the Scottish National Party on Tuesday over the decision to end its long-standing opposition to Nato.
• John Finnie and Jean Urquhart resign from SNP over Nato and will sit as independents
• Alex Salmond ‘saddened’ by resignations
Highlands and Islands list politicians John Finnie and Jean Urquhart described their move – which leaves the ruling party with a majority of only one – as “heart-wrenching”.
Opposition parties claimed there was now a division within the SNP in the lead-up to the independence referendum to be held in 2014.
There were also fears late on Tuesday among the party leadership that other SNP MSPs might follow suit, with ministers frantically contacting likely rebels to keep them onside.
Both Mr Finnie and Ms Urquhart – who will sit as independents in the Scottish Parliament – declared their continued support for the Yes campaign, but felt their opposition to nuclear weapons was left untenable by last week’s vote at conference in favour of joining Nato.
Party leader Alex Salmond said he was saddened by the resignations.
The SNP now has a majority of one at Holyrood, although the two MSPs said they would continue to support the party “on most issues”.
The change of stance on Nato membership was approved at the party’s conference in Perth on Friday by 426 votes to 332.
The SNP’s stance for the past 30 years has been to oppose Nato, the defence alliance involving the United States, the UK and other countries.
Mr Finnie said: “I understand that there are those who wish to stay within the SNP and to continue to fight our corner in this essential debate, and I accept their reasons for doing so. However, 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.”
Mr Finnie and Ms Urquhart had been leading members of the SNP group on Highland Council before being elected.
They had been convener and vice-convener of the authority for one year, before the SNP group walked away following disputes with opposition parties.
Ms Urquhart, from Ullapool, who has been a supporter of independence for 25 years and a CND member for 35 years, said: “The issue of nuclear disarmament and removing Trident from Scotland’s waters is a red-line issue for me, and I could not remain committed to a party that has committed itself to retaining membership
of Nato. 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.
John and I will continue to work with MSPs across the chamber for a fairer and more peaceful Scotland.
“Importantly, we look forward to continuing to represent the residents of the Highlands and Islands.”
The pair’s decision to stay in parliament comes even though the SNP code of conduct says resignation from the party is accompanied by a “duty” to resign from the parliament.
The resignations leave the SNP with 65 MSPs, which still gives the party a majority in the Scottish Parliament.
A total of 69 SNP MSPs were elected in May 2011, but the choice of Tricia Marwick as presiding officer reduced the number to 68.
Dunfermline MSP Bill Walker was expelled from the party in April following allegations of domestic abuse.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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