JIM Sillars, the former deputy leader of the SNP, has said he would refuse to vote for independence in a second referendum if it meant re-joining the EU after Brexit.

Despite being a prominent Yes campaigner in 2014, he said he would abstain in such circumstances and believed many SNP supporters would do likewise.

“I do not want to be run by an unelected, self-serving elite,” he told the Herald.

Loading article content

Mr Sillars revealed his intention in a BBC Radio 4 documentary broadcast on Monday.

A pro-Brexit campaigner, Mr Sillars said making a second referendum about EU membership would be a “big mistake” and alienate SNP supporters, a third of whom voted Leave in 2016.

He said: “I, for example, could not vote Yes if on the ballot paper it said, ‘We wish the Scottish state to be a member of the European Union’, and I’m not alone in that.

“One of the biggest miscalculations by Nicola Sturgeon is to believe that the 1.6m Scots who voted Remain would automatically then vote to go back into the European Union.

“That means Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Tory party, and all the Tories who voted to Remain, would in fact vote to leave the United Kingdom and take a Scottish state into the European Union. I think that’s fantasy.”

Within hours of the Brexit vote, Ms Sturgeon said Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will - a scenario set out in the SNP manifesto - had made a referendum “highly likely”.

She later said a new plebiscite was “all but inevitable” if Theresa May rejects the SNP government proposal to keep Scotland in the EU single market after Brexit.

However she has been coy about whether the independence offer next time would involve a return to full EU membership.

The First Minister is widely expected to announce a further step towards a referendum when she addresses SNP activists at her party’s spring conference next week.

Former First Minister Alex Salmond has suggested autumn 2018 as a date.

Speaking to the Herald about his remarks on Radio 4, Mr Sillars said it was the first time he had voiced them in public, although he had expressed them in private to friends.

He said: “I did not vote to come out the EU to go back in. I think that would apply to a good number of the estimated 400,000 Yes voters who voted Leave. I imagine they would abstain.”

He said a vote for leaving the UK only to return to the EU would not be a vote for genuine independence because of a “massive transfer of sovereignty” to Brussels.

He said: “Either they [the SNP leadership] are kidding people on or they themselves have not read the Lisbon Treaty, and if they’ve read it they haven’t understood it.

“The wisest course for the Yes movement, and that includes the SNP component of it, is to wait to see the final deal. Then they can deploy their argument.

“At the moment we don’t know the deal. If it was a free trade deal [zero tariffs like the existing EU single market], why would we want to go back into the EU when we would inherit a free trade deal? That’s a question they don’t seem to asked themselves.

“The likelihood of a free trade deal is greater than the likelihood of a hard Brexit on WTO [World Trade Organisation] conditions, if you look at the respective trade figures.”

Mr Sillars, 79, won the historic Govan byelection for the SNP in 1988, then served as deputy leader under Alex Salmond in the early 1990s.

In 2014, he toured the country in a van dubbed the ‘Margo Mobile’ in memory of his late wife, the Independent MSP Margo MacDonald, campaigning vigorously for a Yes vote.

Asked what Ms Sturgeon should say to the SNP conference in Aberdeen, he said: “I hope she finds a way out of the corner into which she has boxed herself in respect of demanding the referendum very soon.

“Whatever the position is vis-a-vis the EU, I cannot conceive of the Yes movement winning in 2018 in the middle of [Brexit] negotiations. We would be subject to the cry from Westminster, ‘Why don’t you wait to see what the deal is?’”

Pro-Brexit Tory MSP Ross Thomson said: “This is a stark reminder for Nicola Sturgeon not to ignore the more than one million people in Scotland who voted to leave the EU. Among those were 400,000 SNP voters, the party’s former deputy leader, and as many as six SNP MSPs.

“The First Minister should remember that next time she embarks on another Brexit rant.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie added: “Jim Sillars speaks for thousands of independence supporters who backed Brexit.

“The real test for Nicola Sturgeon is whether she will hold true to her pro-European beliefs or sell them out to get Jim Sillars and others back on board for another referendum.

“As the SNP will do anything and everything to win independence I suspect she will compromise on Europe before long."

An SNP spokesman said: “Despite being an architect of the Independence in Europe policy, Jim Sillars is a longstanding and outspoken critic of the EU, and he is entitled to his view.

“But Scotland voted by a 24-point margin to remain in Europe, and the SNP will do what it takes to protect Scotland’s national interests in the face of a Tory government with no mandate north of the border which thinks it can do what it wants to Scotland and get away with it.”