Jim Orr: Dear Jim Sillars, please quit the SNP

Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars. Picture: Jane Barlow
Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Dear Mr Sillars,

Over the weekend I read of you appearing to taunt the SNP by saying you “couldn’t care less” if you were expelled for campaigning in support of a rival party called Rise. As an SNP supporter, I am responding with some advice for you.

In 1988 many of us were inspired by your 
Govan by-election victory. Especially the 
commanding way that you did it – with your exceptional debating skills and power of 
oratory. But I’ve followed things closely since then and it is difficult to think of many positive contributions that you have made to the independence movement or the SNP in the intervening 28 years.

In 2004, you openly undermined John Swinney’s leadership but you decided you had to do it via the media rather than attending an SNP conference where such matters would normally get resolved. I have no idea when you last spoke at an SNP national conference but it must be getting on for 20 years. I should know, I’ve been to most of them. To be fair you were definitely at the SNP conference in Govan Town Hall in 1991.

For years the Marchmont branch of the SNP existed only to give you a regular opportunity to attack the party leadership, and this caused huge friction between your supporters and those of us who simply wanted to campaign for SNP candidates and policies. I should know, I was the organiser of that branch for years.

You also castigated the SNP for proposing to settle the independence question via a referendum – calling the whole policy a “fraudulent idea”. Your preference was that a mandate for independence would follow on from a majority of parliamentary seats. Not many independence supporters would agree with that strategy now.

To your credit, you campaigned hard and well for independence up to the September 2014 referendum. But then you did more to undermine the credibility and positive ethos of the Yes campaign than anyone else on our side when you issued your “Day of Reckoning” threat to No supporters. This was a hammer blow. Tens of thousands of No voters saw a bitter and twisted side of the Yes campaign that actually barely exists outside of groups like the so-called Scottish Resistance.

It seems that you’ve scarcely understood that the SNP and the wider independence movement are based on Scottish values such as tolerance of the views of others, and that we’ve always needed to win over No voters rather than threaten them. These No voters, 55 per cent of the population, feel just as Scottish as you or me.

And then rather than apologise for this blunder after the referendum, you demanded an enquiry into supposed “vote rigging” about which there was not a shred of evidence. Edinburgh Council has its problems but our election team is highly regarded and the last thing they deserved was to be thought guilty, by association with such smears, of what was effectively corruption. Rather than help the SNP in Edinburgh, you’ve constantly created more problems for them.

I have a lot of admiration for you Jim but I’ve lost faith in you. If you believe in Rise, then go and join them and put your heart and soul into helping them. If you’re an honourable man you will do the decent thing and resign from the SNP rather than have the last years of your often distinguished career become synonymous with goading the SNP to dare to expel you.

Yours for Scotland, Councillor Jim Orr