Messing with Brexit puts Yes victory at risk, warns Sillars

Sillars is not impressed by the SNP's strategic thinking over Europe. Picture: Neil Hanna
Sillars is not impressed by the SNP's strategic thinking over Europe. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Nicola Sturgeon’s attempts to undermine Brexit could sabotage the SNP’s chances of achieving Scottish independence, the party’s former deputy leader has warned.

Jim Sillars accused the First Minister of “short-term thinking” when it comes to the Scottish Government’s response to the UK’s vote to leave the European Union.

Sillars criticised the Brexit strategy adopted by Sturgeon days before she publishes a keynote paper outlining the Scottish Government’s thinking on EU withdrawal.

The document, “Scotland’s Place in Europe: People, Jobs and Investment”, will warn of the economic perils of a hard Brexit.

Published tomorrow, it will underpin the Scottish Government’s approach to Brexit as negotiations intensify over the next few months, with the spring 2019 deadline for EU withdrawal edging closer.

But Sillars, a former deputy SNP leader and Leave voter, attacked Sturgeon’s approach to Brexit, arguing that standing in the way of Britain’s departure from the EU would store up problems for the SNP in the future.

Speaking to Scotland on Sunday, Sillars said the stance taken by Sturgeon would give Unionists the ammunition to disrupt independence in the event of a Yes vote in a second referendum.

“I really begin to wonder about the strategy when you look at what they have been trying to do – sabotage the EU referendum result. They are laying down practices that others can follow to sabotage your future Scottish independence work,” said Sillars.

“Don’t forget, to get Scottish independence first of all you have to have a Yes vote in a referendum. Then there has to be a Scottish independence bill passing through the House of Commons. If you disable a referendum on the basis that it was only in principle, there has to be an examination of what it means in practice. Then in future you may find that Unionists could lose the referendum in Scotland, but then start to sabotage it in the UK – quoting principles that the SNP have used in respect of the EU referendum.

“This is short-term thinking. You have got to be aware that something you are doing today doesn’t snooker you further down the road. In a sense the SNP position taken by Nicola is to refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the EU referendum vote. She does that on the basis that Scotland turned out a Remain vote. But the ballot paper had nothing to do with Scotland. The ballot paper was whether or not the UK remained or left. On a premise, her and others in the party leadership have been trying to sabotage the EU referendum. If you can sabotage that, somebody else can sabotage your future referendum on the same basis. I get really worried about this. I’m not impressed by their strategic thinking.”

Sillars described Sturgeon’s proposal to remain in the single market and customs union as “ludicrous”, arguing that Scotland would be bound by their rules but without any influence.

Sillars also criticised the “catastrophic” language being used by Scottish ministers in terms of the economic damage caused by EU withdrawal. As one of Scotland’s one million Brexiteers, he warned against describing the vote for EU withdrawal as a “Tory Brexit”, saying it was a “people’s Brexit”.

“They would be far better concentrating on the issues we would require Scottish control over and making that plain to people, and trying to assist the UK government in getting the best Brexit deal possible instead of being a surrogate for the European Commission.”

His fellow independence-supporting Brexiteer, the former cabinet minister Alex Neil, indicated he was also dismayed by the pessimistic view of leaving the bloc.

The SNP MSP for Airdrie and Shotts said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Sturgeon’s document articulated a downbeat version of the economic consequences of Brexit.

“I don’t see anything wrong with scenario planning. I think we should look at all the options, because even if it is a soft Brexit there will be new opportunities and we will need to reorientate our trade policy. But I think everybody should stop scaremongering and deal with the facts,” said Neil.

“All the forecasts by the Remoaners have proved to be absolute nonsense so far. I’m not saying there aren’t any downsides. Of course there are. But it is what the net effect is that’s important,” he added.

Last night an SNP spokesperson suggested that Sillars appeared to be arguing that Scottish MSPs and MPs should not have a say on Scotland’s future relationship with Brussels.

The spokesperson said: “The people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the European Union. The disastrous consequences of a chaotic hard Tory Brexit are becoming clearer by the day and the SNP is campaigning with other parties and groups to keep Scotland and the UK in the single market and customs union.”