Jim Sillars warns SNP rebels: Back Nato or harm Yes campaign
FORMER SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars has warned the party that a failure to back the leadership over its controversial plans to ditch opposition to Nato would harm the pro-independence campaign.
Mr Sillars stepped into the increasingly bitter row that has seen MSPs and party branches lining up to oppose a move by SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson to abandon the long-standing anti-Nato stance at the annual party conference this autumn.
He issued a stark warning to conference delegates that a vote against the proposed policy shift could mean that Nato countries could “mobilise against us” by intervening in the independence referendum in autumn 2014.
Mr Sillars, who was Alex Salmond’s deputy in the early 1990s, predicted that Nato nations could publicly say during the referendum that they would block an independent Scotland joining the European Union in an attempt to scupper a Yes vote.
He suggested that the SNP’s existing policy of opposition to Nato would alarm members of the alliance about what role an independent Scotland would play in defence.
Mr Sillars, who has been an arch-critic of the First Minister’s leadership, insisted that the vote on the policy change was not about “whether Alex Salmond or Angus Robertson wins” as he called on the party to join the “real world” over the issue of Nato membership.
But he made a direct appeal to SNP members to back Mr Robertson’s conference resolution that says “an independent Scotland will maintain Nato membership subject to an agreement that Scotland will not host nuclear weapons”.
Mr Sillars, who remains an SNP member, said: “No Nato organisation is going to stand by and say: take away a strategic point of the alliance. Scotland is vital to Nato as an unsinkable aircraft carrier.
“Nato wouldn’t take too kindly to us saying that we’d leave that gap wide open, and a Nato country in the EU may then say that it would block Scotland’s entry to the EU. How would delegates to the conference handle that one?
“The question to party delegates is do they want a position that’s about the real world or one that’s for a never-never land.”
The latest row came after seven MSPs were identified as supporters of a formal attempt to block the policy change along with a dozen internal groups, including party branches in the constituencies of Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and energy minister Fergus Ewing.
Nationalist MSPs Jamie Hepburn, Sandra White, Marco Biagi, Dave Thompson, Jean Urquhart, John Finnie and Gordon MacDonald are among those backing an amendment that would replace Mr Robertson’s text with a statement based on existing SNP policy stating opposition to Nato.
SNP MSP John Wilson, who also opposes the move to scrap the anti-Nato stance, dismissed the claim by Mr Sillars that the existing policy would damage the Yes to independence campaign.
He said: “It is for the people of Scotland to decide whether or not they support independence, and any attempt to externally influence the outcome would be seen as a direct interference in the democratic rights of Scots.”
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