A controversial change to standing orders was overwhelmingly agreed at conference yesterday and states that no MPs shall “publicly criticise a group decision, policy or another member of the group”.
The move prompted criticism from opponents that the party is shutting down open debate within its ranks.
Liberal Democrat Scottish president Sir Malcolm Bruce said: “Any proposals to limit freedom of speech, be they to a political party or to wider society, should be rejected unequivocally. Liberal Democrats cherish freedom of debate – it can be a force of progressive change.
“I’m sure SNP members will be disappointed at this latest snub to civil liberties by their party bosses. It is increasingly clear that only Liberal Democrats will stand up for the civil liberties needed to build a fairer society.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “It’s clear Nicola Sturgeon will try to rule her party with an iron fist.
“Presumably, given his recent behaviour, Alex Salmond will be exempt from these instructions.
“With rhetoric like this, SNP candidates must be scared of their own shadows and bamboozled as to what they are and are not allowed to do.”
Labour Deputy leader Kezia Dugdale added: “This is Stalinist discipline. But after the week she has had, it is understandable why Nicola Sturgeon should want to gag Alex Salmond.”
The changes to the standing orders backed yesterday also say that MPs must “adhere to all decisions taken democratically by the group”.
And any MP who “registers their dissent” over decisions must meet the chief whip to “discuss the situation”.
The proposals are a sign the party is preparing for a much larger group after the general election in May.
The rule change was drafted by Angus Robertson, the SNP’s leader at Westminster.
MPs would also have to “abide by and support the SNP’s policies”.
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