David Torrance has written in the Scotsman about the upcoming SNP Conference debate on potential membership of NATO in an independent Scotland. Torrance notes that a quiet U-turn, initially planned for a June meeting of the National Council of the party, has been pushed up to Conference level after an apparent mis-reading the temperature of the party:
“…to have at least seven SNP MSPs prepared to oppose the leadership’s position at conference constitutes a significant rebellion, certainly the biggest since Alex Salmond returned as leader of the party in 2004.
What makes the situation even more interesting is that those tabling counter motions cannot be classified as “the usual suspects” or fringe figures not to be taken seriously.
Having been accused of control freakery in the past, perhaps the whole debate is seen as a useful corrective, a means by which Salmond can emphasise that the SNP, unlike “New” Labour, remains a healthy and democratic organisation.
But the split – and it certainly constitutes a split – is not just about Nato membership; it is a proxy for wider tensions within the party, between those who believe the leadership has become too conservative in its vision of independence and those, like Robertson, who argue that Nato membership is a crucial test of an independent Scotland’s credibility on the international stage.
Whilst it may exaggerating things somewhat to predict splits, some close voices have been outspoken in arguing for a clearer, straight-up referendum on Independence and a shelving of the recent nuances in the SNP position. Squeezing the distance between ‘Devo Max’ and outright Independence has been a key plank of the SNP strategy to woo the Scottish electorate, with a curious doublespeak between continuity and the ‘great leap forward’ of traditional nationalist rhetoric.
Tom Harris MP has quipped:
“….Salmond’s desperation to see a bounce in the polls for independence has forced him to reassure Unionist voters that “Great Britain” will still be around even after we split from the rest of the country. We’ll still have the Queen, the pound, Nato, Trident, the BBC… We’re all waiting for him to say that only by voting for independence can the Union be saved.”
Are these contradictions placing pressure on the unity of the SNP’s mission? Time will tell….