ALEX Salmond has long enjoyed a rather one-sided relationship with dissent.
In the 1980s, his rebellious streak helped establish him as a coming politician while the same defiance and appetite for confrontation also made him an early critic of the Iraq war and earned him Tony Blair's lasting enmity.
But while Salmond has never shied from a fight with bigger rivals, he has little experience of dissent against his own leadership.
The SNP's iron discipline at Holyrood is legendary, and the envy of the other parties. But, as the First Minister said of the proposal to end the SNP's longstanding opposition to Nato, "times change, circumstances change".
Just how much they have changed is likely to become clear in the coming weeks, as SNP activists wanting to remain outside the nuclear alliance prepare for a crucial conference vote in October.
As we report today, six of the SNP's 67 MSPs have now declared themselves in favour of holding to the current policy on rejecting Nato membership. Others are expected to follow suit.
As rebellions go, it is certainly no Arab Spring, but how the SNP leadership responds will say much about the party's future direction, and the early signs are not good.
Last week, the party machine instructed MSPs to parrot a bland line about the "excellent debate" ahead on Nato if the press came knocking. That unappealing control-freakery should end.
The behaviour of the SNP hierarchy on this issue may well inform choices in the independence referendum. Voters will be watching.
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