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.
In 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 wrong.
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 pejorative.
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.
A 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 by dogma.
Let’s be generous and just say that Jim’s portrayal of the situation is inaccurate.
Which 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.
And 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.
It 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 somewhat dubious.