THE Scottish National Party decided to go for broke on its strategy of

independence through Europe with a landslide vote to boycott the

Scottish Constitutional Convention at its national council in Port

Glasgow at the weekend.

The debate showed that the Nationalists view the convention, due to

meet on March 30, as little more than a Labour trap to lure them into

campaigning for devolution.

In a remarkable gamble the leadership, disregarding plummeting

fortunes in opinion polls wiping out the Govan by-election gain, argued

later that with the split over the convention sidelined, the party's

poll tax and European election campaigns would quickly bring a

resurgence in popularity.

Govan victor Mr Jim Sillars said: ''We are perfectly prepared to take

our chances with the Scottish people.'' He promised that the SNP would

take a neutral attitude to the convention and not undermine it.

Canon Kenyon Wright, general secretary of the Scottish Council of

Churches and chair of the convention's business committee, said

yesterday: ''There will be no breast-beating or scoring of points off

the SNP by us.

''I feel that their decision not to take part will do more damage to

them than to the convention. They are effectively excluding themselves

but we will go ahead, although it will be sad not having them there.

''It is very strange that outside of a convention that will have the

overwhelming support of the Scottish people, will be the SNP and the

Tories, who seem to be saying in agreement with each other that the only

choice is the status quo or total independence.''

The vote, taken at a highly-charged national council with more than

500 people, was by l9l votes to 41 to accept their negotiators'

recommendation not to take part. It was the ultimate triumph after 15

years' debate for the independence hard-liners.

National executive dissident Ms Isobel Lindsay and a handful of

supporters argued forlornly that the party would be out of tune with a

Scottish people desperate for home rule.

The SNP's decline in electoral popularity since it walked out of the

cross-party talks is clearly reflected in two successive polls. A

Scotsman/Mori poll showed Labour 45%, SNP 24%, Tories 21%, Democrats 6%,

SDP 4%. A Scotland on Sunday/BBC On The Record/Mori poll yesterday had

Labour 46%, Tories 23%, SNP 20%, Democrats 5% and SDP 5%.

The Glasgow Herald's System Three poll in January had the SNP at 32%,

its highest popularity rating in 12 years. On current trends it has

forfeited entirely the Govan surge and its prospects of capturing the

North-East Scotland, South of Scotland, and Mid Scotland and Fife

Euro-seats must be severely dented.

The Campaign for a Scottish Assembly says the door remains open for

the SNP, which has insisted on a directly-elected body, increased

membership, sovereignty for the Scottish people should Mrs Thatcher

reject convention demands, and a multi-choice referendum.

Even after the weekend decision the Nationalists said they wished the

convention well and would take part if all their demands were met.

Against this Labour argues that there is little point in a convention if

the referendum were conceded. The SNP then proceeded to campaign against

its preferred option.

SNP leader Mr Gordon Wilson defended the vote as a principled decision

and added: ''We have thrown down the gauntlet to the Labour Party. Why

do they deny the Scottish people a referendum?

''We are not making any threats or ultimata. This non-elected

convention as presently established is going nowhere, but heading

straight for the rocks of a Prime Ministerial veto without the

protection of the Scottish people behind it.''

He disputed that the SNP's opinion poll decline would be long term and

he had earlier said that the decision would take his party ''on the high

road to victory''.

He refused to accept they would be damaged by the vote, adding: ''What

we are seeing is the SNP going into campaigning mode on poll tax,

independence in Europe and the Euro-elections. To some extent what has

happened was unhelpful but in three weeks' time, when the poll tax bills

drop through letter-boxes, this will be the gut issue campaign for the

next six to nine months.

''We don't want to be involved in a farce or a circus that will be

doomed to failure in that period.''

Mr Sillars said that the choices facing the party had been between an

emotional claim or realpolitik. He felt enormously heartened it had come

down on the side of realpolitik.

The convention as proposed was self-appointed and deeply flawed

against the people's convention advocated by the SNP.

Individual SNP members would still campaign for the convention but Mr

Sillars, a vice-president, said: ''After our decision, any member taking

part in that convention does not do so representing the SNP unless the

options we have set out are met.''

Summing up the debate, he said: ''We have to decide whether we are

part of a marshmallow set of Scottish society that looks good until you

squeeze it and find nothing. We are going to take our country to

independence in Europe on the basis of hard-rock principle.''

The third negotiator, Mrs Margaret Ewing, MP for Moray, said that the

decision showed the maturity of the party. She added: ''It was a

demonstration of political astuteness.''

Ms Lindsay, who came under strong personal attack on occasion and

endured chants of ''Rhodesia'' and ''UDI'' when she asked what a

majority of SNP MPs could accomplish against a Thatcher Government,

stood steadfastly by her argument that the party was out of step with

public opinion on the convention.

''I suppose I am here in the Frank Bruno role,'' she said. Ms Lindsay

argued that in the end even the SNP would have to turn to the Scottish

institutions, such as the unions and churches, for support on the back

of having rejected in a careless and cavalier manner a ''magnificent,

historic opportunity'' to help establish the convention.

She warned that people would move away from the SNP and added: ''That

convention will meet on March 30 and make a ringing declaration

asserting the sovereign rights of the Scottish people. Are we going to

push that national drive forward or are we going to be out there

standing shoulder to shoulder with the Tory party and the CBI?''

Mr Ian Smith, Midlothian, said in her support that Scottish Labour

leader Mr Donald Dewar was anxious to exclude the SNP. He added: ''If we

come out we will have one fight on our hands. We have to take them on in

June in the Euro-elections and beat them. Otherwise we have serious


Professor Neil McCormick, Edinburgh, one of the authors of the

Campaign for a Scottish Assembly's Claim of Right document, said the

party's strategy was wrong since if it went forward within the

convention and Mrs Thatcher rejected its claims, it would crystallise

the thinking of the Scottish people and leave the SNP in a strong


Mr Jim Fairlie, Perth, said the matter of sovereignty was critical and

he said: ''If we are asking for devolution then England decides, but if

we are demanding independence then the Scots decide. Let the convention

appeal to Westminster and see how far they get.''

Mrs Winifred Ewing, MEP for Highlands and Islands, said it was a

matter of loyalty and resisting media criticism. She said: ''As we get

nearer power the press gets a lot hotter. We must keep our nerve and not

resort to the public squabbling that has caused a very serious drop in

electoral public opinion. If you want power, behave like a political

party and not a debating society.''

Mr Alex Salmond, MP for Banff and Buchan, launched a stern attack on

Ms Lindsay, accusing her of being more of a Unionist than the Secretary

of State for Scotland and ''more of a Unionist and a Conservative'' on

the referendum issue than Mr Charles Gray, leader of Strathclyde region,

who said it was ''perfectly possible''.

Leader comment

Dewar against independence

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