Jim Sillars is very popular. He is, with some justification, regarded as a stalwart of the independence movement. For this reason, there is a tendency in certain quarters for his pronouncements to be received rather more uncritically than is, perhaps, wise.
the first place, we must always keep in mind the fact that Mr Sillars
harbours some resentment for the current SNP leadership. To put it as
tactfully as we might, the party's achievements under the auspices of
gradualists such as Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon only serves to
underline just how wrong the absolutists were - and continue to be. As a
leading proponent of "pure" nationalism, Jim Sillars is bound to feel
the sting of this unflattering comparison.
It is a curious
characteristic of internal party politics that, the more the SNP
succeeds, the more the "old guard" berates them for the error of their
ways. I swear the likes of Sillars and Gordon Wilson will wake up as
Independence Day dawns still complaining that the party is doing it all
If all of this were not sufficient to give us pause for
thought then alarm bells must surely be triggered by the fact that Jim
Sillars is content to be counted part of a group which includes among
its leading lights such titans of political thought as Nigel Farage and
David Coburn. The petulant jibes about disagreement with party policy on
the EU leading to members being branded "disloyal" can be put down to
simple jealousy. In the first place, being a member of a political party
necessarily implies acceptance of, if not wholehearted commitment to,
the policies which have been developed through internal democratic
processes. Publicly speaking out against those policies is, by
definition, disloyal - even if only in a sense that is barely
And is it true anyway? One of the distinguishing
features of the SNP is a tolerance of dissent which is remarkable, at
least by the standards of British party politics. Recall, for example,
the debate over Nato policy. A debate which was noted for the lack of
acrimony. Go to SNP gatherings of any kind - in either the actual or the
virtual world - and you will find disagreement on various matters of
policy being openly expressed without anyone batting an eye.
moment's sober reflection reveals why this is so. The SNP is founded,
not on the precepts of a particular ideology, but on a simple
overarching principle. At all levels of the party, adherence to the
essential principle of constitutional justice is no impediment to
pragmatism in the realm of policy development. Discussion is unhindered
Let's be generous and just say that Jim's portrayal of the situation is inaccurate.
brings us to a truth which Mr Sillars may find a bit harsh. Nobody
cares! The British media may take great delight in trumpeting his
pronouncements on the matter of EU membership as evidence of serious
turmoil within the SNP. But the reality is that nobody is either in
slightest bit surprised or even mildly bothered.
It's Jim Sillars. This is what he does.
it's not as if he presents a real challenge to SNP policy on EU
membership. If his statements to date are anything to go by, his anti-EU
arguments are no more persuasive than those propounded by the ranting
Europhobes with whom he has chosen to align himself. If Jim Sillars's
"case" is distinguished at all from the blinkered isolationist
vacuousness of the "UKIPpers", it is only in the toe-curling
childishness of insisting that we shouldn't be speaking to the nasty EU
bogeyman because he was mean to us during the first referendum campaign.
An argument which is rivalled in its paucity only by its inaccuracy.
was not the EU that "told us to get stuffed". It was a rag-tag of
shadowy "sources"; posturing functionaries; and right wing politicians
persuaded to do favours for the British establishment - no doubt in the
expectation of some quid pro quo. The EU said nothing on the matter. Its
official position was that it had no official position, and could not
formulate one until asked to do so by a member state - specifically, the
UK. Something UK Prime Minister David Cameron was strangely reluctant
to do - in a way that only failed to prompt questions in the minds of
those whose minds were firmly closed.
There should be no such
reluctance to question Jim Sillars's motives or challenge his anti-EU
rhetoric. His status as a champion of Scotland's cause should not exempt
him from the requirement to set out an alternative to continued EU
membership which does not rely on strikingly implausible assumptions and
woolly-minded wishful thinking.
The stuff about accusations of
"disloyalty" is a diversion. It's plainly ridiculous to suppose that Jim
Sillars's dedication to the cause of restoring Scotland's rightful
constitutional status is anything less than total. It is far from
ridiculous, however, to suggest that his views on other matters might be