The SNP’s former deputy leader has accused the party under Alex Salmond’s leadership of being “totalitarian” and becoming an “intellectually dumb party”.
Having over the weekend questioned the First Minister’s belief that an independent Scotland would automatically join the European Union, Jim Sillars who famously won the 1988 Govan by-election, has used a guest article in Holyrood magazine to attack the iron grip with which the SNP leadership now rules and the failure of its backbenchers to show any backbone.
“Today, the SNP is the most leadershipcontrolled party in the UK. If I did not know better, I would easily believe the leaders had been schooled in the old communist party, where the top, the elite, made the decisions and the rest fell into step automatically, with not a word of dissent.
“Totalitarian would be a fair description of Scotland’s majority party.
“It is worth remembering that many MSPs were elected legally, not as outright SNP candidates, but “Alex Salmond for First Minister” candidates, with all that means for who is the boss. That is the relationship that allows the leadership to instruct them to silence on a major issue, no matter that their constituents might like to know their views on NATO membership.
“Dialogue between the people and their representatives is essential in a genuine democracy. Apparently, it is not permitted in the SNP MSP-people relationship.
“The SNP leadership has reversed the fundamental principle of the parliamentary system of government: that we elect representatives, not delegates, who listen, but finally give us the benefit of their opinions leading to decisions taken by them.
“Which category does an MSP fall into when told, and obeys, the ‘shut up’ instruction? There is, of course, the intriguing question of what an SNP MSP is to do if a constituent writes and asks for an opinion on NATO. Tell him/her that he cannot say anything?
“This is not the only gripe about parliamentarians: that is, people with views, ideas, principles, consciences, with a responsibility first to their constituents and the national interest to speak and act without fear or favour. The UK parties at Westminster pass that test. The SNP at Holyrood does not.”
Concluding, he argued:
“There is a virtue in loyalty, but if loyalty is taken to a point where an MSP, or even worse, a whole group of them, cannot balance loyalty to party with loyalty to principle and the interests of the people, then it becomes dumb loyalty; and that leads inevitably to an intellectually dumb party.”
His remarks come amidst reports of concern among the ranks of SNP MSPs over the way that Alex Salmond is coming across during the weekly sessions of First Minister’s Questions (FMQs).
“It might seem like a bit of knockabout in Holyrood but on TV he just looks like a bully. Worse, he looks like he’s dodging the question. The tone’s all wrong.”
Responding to the remarks by Jim Sillars, a spokesperson for the SNP has said:
“Jim Sillars is entitled to his view but the record points in exactly the opposite direction – as our debate on Nato membership at next month’s conference demonstrates, the SNP is the only party able and willing to have substantial policy debates for the wider party membership, including MSPs, to engage in and decide.
“We are going to have an excellent debate, including reaffirming the SNP’s strong stance to remove Trident nuclear weapons from Scotland, which reflects the democratic processes at the heart of the SNP.”