Scotland politics

Jim Sillars to campaign for EU exit

Jim Sillars
Image caption Jim Sillars is a long-standing critic of the SNP leadership

Former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars has revealed he will campaign for the UK to leave the European Union.

Mr Sillars criticised the SNP's "love affair" with the EU, which he said had opposed Scottish independence.

And he said he had been "astonished" by the number of SNP members who wanted to leave the EU but were not willing to speak out.

First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is strongly in favour of the UK remaining in the EU.

But she has said that the rest of the UK voting to leave the EU while Scotland voted to stay in could be grounds for calling a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Mr Sillars, a veteran independence campaigner who was the husband of the late Margo MacDonald MSP, is the most high-profile nationalist figure to publicly break ranks with the party leadership over Europe.

He said: "There is a tendency if anyone within (the SNP) criticises the leadership to be then described as being disloyal. I think that's a very unhealthy situation inside any democratic political party.

"There may be the situation in which a number of people would like to come out openly and say 'I don't agree with the party leadership on the EU', but prefer not to say so in public. I'm not in that category."

He said that the EU had effectively told independence campaigners to "get stuffed" during the referendum campaign by suggesting an independent Scotland would not be given automatic entry.

'Callous disregard'

He added: "Why we should laud an organisation and tell our supporters to vote to remain in it, when it holds us in such contempt, is something I personally don't understand when there are alternatives for us, which is the European Free Trade Association and the European Economic Area with its treaty with the EU.

"I think (the EU) is a profoundly undemocratic organisation which has shown a callous disregard for people, in Portugal, Spain and Greece for example."

He said he had met and would be happy to work with former MP Nigel Griffiths, who is leading a Labour campaign in Scotland which is opposed to EU membership.

Mr Sillars added: "I certainly met Nigel Griffiths and I'm very impressed by how he has put together a very good Labour Leave campaign in Scotland, but of course this is for Labour Party members and Labour supporters, of which at the moment I am not.

"I'm very happy to co-operate with Nigel. If I can be helpful, I will be helpful."