Jim Fairlie, who left the party in 1990 over strong opposition to the SNP’s “Independence in Europe” strategy, told Scotland on Sunday that a second independence referendum linked to preserving EU membership would “split the national movement” and cost Nicola Sturgeon victory.
His comments follow a poll this week that suggested support for independence among Brexit voters has fallen by a fifth since August, with overall backing for a second referendum stagnating.
Fairlie compared the divisions within the SNP to the 1980s, but said internal discipline meant activists were “frightened to say what they actually thought” on the EU.
“Some of them have campaigned on a lie during the independence referendum, and during the referendum on the EU,” he said. Referring to SNP MSP Alex Neil’s admission after the EU referendum that he voted for Brexit, Fairlie said: “It is a measure of what is going on in the party that he couldn’t admit it.”
He said: “I’m not at all surprised that support for independence has gone down.
“I do know that a lot of the SNP members were just as opposed to the EU as I was, but party loyalty was keeping them inside the party, it was making them go out and do whatever it was that the party decided.”
Fairlie, who campaigned for independence in 2014 but did not take part in the official Yes campaign, accused the SNP of “alienating every natural Conservative voter in Scotland”.
“It has been made plain to them that there is no place in an independent Scotland for them,” he said, adding: “The 2014 referendum was a class campaign, it had nothing to do with independence.”
In a warning over the government’s the Brexit strategy, Fairlie said: “By tying the second independence referendum to EU membership, it will split the national movement. It will split it right down the middle. Because there are far more SNP supporters who are just as opposed to the EU as they are to being a member of the UK.”
“If Nicola Sturgeon ties the EU to a second independence referendum, she will lose, because people like me, who have fought for independence since I was 15 years of age, will vote no.
“By doing that she has made it impossible for a lot of nationalists to vote for independence, tied to the EU, because it’s not independence. What they’re offering is a choice between two unions, and that’s a false choice.”
An SNP spokeswoman said: “Jim Fairlie’s opposition to independence in Europe is very well known, which is why he left the SNP more than a quarter of a century ago.”