SNP majority down as two respected MSPs leave party over NATO vote

The SNP is starting to pay the price of its decision to change policy to seek membership of NATO should Scotland vote for independence – despite the fact that the party is and remains centrally opposed to the possession of nuclear weapons.

This core policy is contradicted by the decision – voted through by a majority of only 29 votes -  potentially to apply for NATO membership, despite that organisation’s frontline policy of first strike nuclear deterrence.

The respected Highlands and Islands MSPs, John Finnie and Jean Urquhart, spoke powerfully against the proposed change of policy at the SNP conference last weekend.

Jean Urquhart told the audience of fellow party members that this issue had led to her being called ‘a rebel – for speaking in favour of party policy’.

Mr Finnie and Ms Urquhart have found it impossible to accommodate their consciences to the new policy and, with obviously numb determination, have chosen to leave the SNP.

These are two serious losses, not just numbers in a majority now cut – although they will continue to vote with the SNP on other matters – but because the weight of their personal case histories is deeply woven into the tapestry of the party from which they have had to walk away.

Jean Urquhart has been a CND  member for 35 tears and an SNP member for 25 years. Mr Finnie has been an SNP member since his teens. Their loss is a loss of body mass and of soul for the party because they represent the principled conscience people identify with and wish to see inform the parties they may entrust with their votes.

These two, with their manifest integrity, are simply not replaceable by however many smart-alec inexperienced  policy advisers and loud mouth Joan McAlpines.

Both make it clear that they continue to believe in and support an independent Scotland ‘… but not a Nato-dependent Scotland.’ They deserved better and so does Scotland.

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21 Responses to SNP majority down as two respected MSPs leave party over NATO vote

  1. As much as I like them both they must have been aware that this proposal would be debated within the Party years ago.

    If they were not aware of this where have they been the last five years? Why do people come forward as Party candidates of any party if they know that their Bottom line is likely to be challenged during the parliamentary term and they are not prepared to accept the majority view whatever the decision might be?

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      • Had either of these MSPs died then my understanding is that they would be automatically replaced from the lists without another election. It would seem logical that MSPs elected on a party regional list should remain within that party. This is an interesting point, though a bit academic as both of them have made it clear they will continue to support the Government – sort of SNP-lite MSPs.

        Had they defected to another party then that would raise some interesting constitutional questions.

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    • That’s been the way it’s happened with councillors and MPs from all parties for decades and with MSPs for over a decade.

      It’s only if the sitting candidate dies or retires that there’s a by-election. If the majority of the people who elected them disapprove of the two candidates’ decision to become independents they can vote them out at the next Scottish Parliament election.

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        • In terms of constitutionality, this is correct.
          The List vote is for parties not individuals and the parties list, in order of preference, those they will place in any seats won.
          The List system does not allow for Independents for obvious reasons, since it is designed to ensure party presence.
          Any List MSP who resigns from the party therefore cannot properly or legally remain in a List seat as an independent.
          The party that put them in a List seat must simply replace them with the next person or persons in the batting order on their party list for the region in question.
          Anything else is the sort of fudge any decent constitution and any responsible government cannot make.

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  2. Disappointed with both of them but surely this discussion of NATO membership could have waited until after we have won the referendum

    I hae my doubts that we will be accepted into NATO with the proviso of Trident removal as a condition of entry – rUK will surely attempt to block us….

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    • I don’t really understand why anyone is disappointed with the two MSPs for taking this decision. It may not be the decision you would have made yourself in the same position but there is surely credibility in a politician knowing where they draw their own line and then refusing to step beyond it. There will always be give and take in politics, the idea of any politician agreeing with every policy a party has is not credible (you see far more of that from voters some of which seem to find it impossible to acknowledge that their party is not 100% correct 100% of the time), however you would like to think that most politicians have a few core beliefs/values which are breaking points for them if the party decides to take a stance opposed to them. That is not something to criticise a politician for doing (or necessarily the party for doing).

      I would be more disappointed in politicians who always accept the party’s majority view regardless of what that view was and how much out of kilter it was with their own beliefs. If you join a party and at a later stage they change a fundamental policy then stepping away is the honourable thing to do rather than being something to be criticised for.

      I also disagree this should have waited until after the referendum (I note your confidence Barmore 2 though must admit I think a positive outcome is less rather than more likely). Issues such as these need to be made clear to inform the decision making process. The more uncertainty there is the more people should refuse to vote on the grounds that they are voting in the dark.

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  3. These two individuals were elected on an SNP ticket. The SNP supported them in that regard, but more importantly, much more importantly, as list MSP’s the electorate elected them on that ticket. Without independence the Scottish people will not have the power to excercise whatever choice it is that they wish to exercise. That somewhat important point seems to have escaped these two ” principled ” dummies who now appear nothing more than a couple of carpet baggers determinded to hold on to their parliamentarian salaries. Principles, yeh these two have got it in spades.

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  4. Scots Renewables. You are right, but these two ” principled ” individuals should have stood down of their own accord. That would have been the moral thing to do. Their failure to stand aside as list MSP’s is a damning endictment of their character, both moral and strategic. No doubt the continued receipt of their salaries is the important principle.

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  5. The fact that they are list MSPs does make it a little more interesting and I actually agree that the system should be in place to enforce an MSP to step down if they walk away from the party on the back of whose list they were elected. Irrespective of what the unionist parties say they should then be replaced by two SNP members from their list.

    What this does highlight is that this should have been considered prior to it actually occurring. It isn’t exactly a rarity in politics for an elected member to walk away from their party so the appropriate steps to take in the event of a list one doing it should have been written into the ‘rule book’

    For me if you are elected as a list MSP and walk away form the party then your time as an MSP is up as you were not elected to represent a body of voters and therefore have no proper duty as an ‘independent’ MSP.

    However that is specific to this case. I stand by my general point that politicians, in general, shouldn’t be criticised for refusing to toe the party line if they feel the party line has changed materially and is no longer palatable to them.

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    • From the point of principle, you are all correct and these two MSPs should have stepped down if they felt so strongly about the issue that they could not stand by the democratic decision of their party.

      However, this is also about real politik and damage limitation. Had the SNP insisted that these two MSPs stand down then imagine the headlines. It would not only have been Newsroom accusing the SNP of being Stalinist. In the real world, the two MSPs resigning from the SNP whip is entirely tokenism as they have agree to back the Government and so their position makes no difference at all to the SNP’s position in the Parliament.

      I think this incident points to a deficiency in the current rules but then again no set of rules can contain all possibilities: imagine the situation where a party underwent a schism so that 50% of their MSPs ended up on either side: which side’s list MSPs should resign?

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      • Dougie,

        I agree that the SNP shouldn’t have insisted on it (hence avoiding the obvious cannon fodder this would have provided). My point is more that your last paragraph which is that it shouldn’t be a choice for either the MSPs or the political party (regardless of which one it is) – it should be established in the rules so there is no debate about it or accusation of inappropriate poltiical shenanigans.

        In a situation as grave as the one you describe it is more likely that the party as a whole would be in turmoil let alone just the issue of list MSPs!

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        • Integrity: My own feeling is that List MSPs who feel they cannot continue to represent their party should resign. But then again, does that mean they have to support the party leadership on every issue? (presumably not). It is quite difficult to think of a set of rules that would cover all possible situations.

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          • I agree. There should be no need/requirement whatsoever for list MSPs to support the party leadership/line on all issues. Once they get the status of MSP then they should exercise their opinio in the same way as any MSP should.

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          • Why should they resign from the SNP ?…the core reason for the existence of such a cobbled together party is independence, anything else is secondary, NO ?…one would assume that the two in question still see this as the primary reason for being in a nationalist party.

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          • Karl,

            I think you maybe missed the gist of the story.

            The two MSPs in question HAVE resigned from the SNP, and are now sitting in Holyrood as independents.

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