Brian Montieth: Ex-SNP duo must defy calls to go

Former SNP MSPs John Finnie and Jean Urquhart. Picture: PA
Former SNP MSPs John Finnie and Jean Urquhart. Picture: PA
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With its U-turn on Nato policy, the SNP lost any influence it held over two MSPs who resigned, says Brian Monteith

I DO not know or believe I have ever met Scotland’s two latest independent members of the Scottish Parliament, but I do know one thing, and that is that they should not be bullied or intimidated into resigning from Holyrood.

As a student during the 1980s I campaigned vigorously in favour of the UK’s and Nato’s nuclear deterrent, supporting the stationing of US Cruise missiles on British soil and advocating Trident as a replacement for Polaris. I mobilised campaigns for Nato and debated in Britain and abroad about the Soviet threat and how it had to be countered.

I am not, therefore, a natural supporter of the views of John Finnie or Jean Urquhart, but I admire and respect their commitment to opinions that are not only deeply felt but are fundamental to what they believe they represent.

Like I was once, they are both regional list members and therefore owe their election to the fact that electors voted for their party. Like I did too, they have now resigned from their party and I know from my own experience that it will not have been an easy decision, but I also know they should not hold a scintilla of moral guilt that they no longer have a mandate to take their seats in the chamber, attend committees and vote when there is a division.

On a purely practical level they cannot be removed and it is for them to decide whether to remain as members or not. That has been the rule that our professedly democratic parties, including the SNP, signed up to and have operated under at every election since the parliament was created. There have been ample opportunities for these parties to demonstrate their unhappiness at the arrangement that, once elected on the list, a member should resign from parliament if he or she leaves the party, by calling for a change in the legislation governing the elected status of MSPs. I am unaware of any such proposal. Furthermore, any covenant that candidates would be required to enter into before election that would force MSPs to resign has as much value or force as the SNP manifesto has for Alex Salmond.

By throwing away one of the SNP’s most fundamental policies the conference threw away any hold it had on Finnie and Urquhart.

The call for the resignation of Finnie and Urquhart by their former colleague Christine Grahame is not about the practice, however, it is about laying on with a trowel a moral guilt that in deserting the party list on which they were elected they have no right to occupy their seats. It is nothing short of emotional blackmail in public view – and says more about Christine Grahame’s logic or humanity than it does about Finnie and Urquhart’s principles.

The simple point that is obvious to any dispassionate observer is that, in reversing its long-held position on rejecting Nato membership, it is the SNP that has deserted the electorate that voted for it, not the former SNP MSPs.

Furthermore, Finnie and Urquhart were selected for the Highlands and Islands SNP list by SNP gatherings that were against Nato membership – they can then, with certainty, say that would not have happened if they had taken the opposite view that Alex Salmond now advocates – and they are therefore continuing to put forward the position that they were elected to promote.

I cannot ever remember a time when I have heard the SNP be anything but hostile to Nato, its military operations, its simulation exercises and most of all its nuclear deterrent provided by the US and British nuclear capabilities. Alex Salmond left no-one in doubt about the SNP’s attitude even to conventional operations when he called the Nato bombing of Serbia “unpardonable folly”.

When the electorate came to vote for the SNP last year and cast their votes in the regional lists there could be little doubt what the SNP position was on Nato; it has been one of their clearest, most resolute and seemingly irrevocable policies in their platform. That was until Angus Robertson decided he should rewrite the policy, not by consultation, not after a great internal debate, but by press release from on high.

It is not as if Finnie and Urquhart have abandoned the policy platform of the SNP, by, for instance, advocating a two-question referendum or, God forbid, suggesting that the Union should be preserved. No, they both hold to the platform upon which they were elected last year – it is their party that has left them and in a most callous and unprincipled fashion.

We know this because it was laid bare before us in full glorious high definition that the policy should be dropped – not because anyone believes Nato is a good thing or membership of it will help Scotland from foreign designs – but because it is unhelpful baggage in the journey to win public support for independence.

If the Scottish public is asked to vote for a party with such a devout commitment to a policy, one that appeared second only to independence itself, and does so in spades, what then does it mean for those remaining SNP members elected on regional lists when the policy is so insincerely jettisoned?

Surely if we are to expect any resignations it should be of those SNP list members who have been elected under false pretences or have abandoned the anti-Nato platform that obtained their mandate.

There are 14 such members in the SNP ranks and it is to them that the ire and gaze of the public should be directed – it is to them the question should be asked: Why are you still taking the public shilling?

Such an obligation does not hold for the likes of Christine Grahame, for she, like many others is a constituency member and it is reasonable to assume that she did not win solely as a beneficiary on her party’s position but because of her repeated challenging of the previous Liberal Democrat incumbent, Jeremy Purvis.

Constituency members have to face their electors directly and must justify their actions at that point – regional lists members are accountable to party committees – but if the party no longer is what it was then their accountability evaporates. They can only look to what they stood for when elected – and in doing so Finnie and Urquhart continue to do what they said on the tin.