Alex Salmond aims to stop more MSPs quitting as SNP majority slips to just one

TS EN News. 19/10/2012. SNP Party Autumn Conference 2012, Perth. Alex Salmond on the top table at the SNP Party Conference as the party decides whether to endorse membership of the military alliance
TS EN News. 19/10/2012. SNP Party Autumn Conference 2012, Perth. Alex Salmond on the top table at the SNP Party Conference as the party decides whether to endorse membership of the military alliance
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Alex Salmond was today desperately trying to stop any more of his MSPs quitting the SNP and losing him his majority at Holyrood.

Yesterday’s dramatic resignations by Highlands MSPs Jean Urquhart and John Finnie over the party’s change of policy on Nato reduced the SNP to 65 out of the 129 MSPs. One more departure would remove Mr Salmond’s majority in the Scottish Parliament. Central Scotland MSP John Wilson, who also opposed the conference decision at the weekend that an independent Scotland should stay in Nato, would only say “no comment” when asked whether he planned to resign.

The First Minister is also defending himself against claims he is a “bare-faced liar” after his deputy Nicola Sturgeon revealed the Scottish Government had not sought specific legal advice on whether Scotland would automatically retain membership of the European Union after independence - despite comments by Mr Salmond in a TV interview in March when he appeared to say that such advice had been sought.

The government has spent thousands of pounds contesting an Information Commissioner’s ruling that it must reveal whether it had taken legal advice on the issue or not.

But Ms Sturgeon told MSPs the government was dropping that appeal and would now ask for official legal advice.

Despite their resignations, Ms Urquhart and Mr Finnie said they would continue to work with the SNP on the campaign for independence and support the government in the chamber.

Edinburgh Central SNP MSP Marco Biagi, another opponent of the Nato U-turn, said he was sad to see the pair go and made clear would not be resigning.

He said: “There has been no push for people who disagreed to leave. There was a full and frank exchange of views. Everyone’s views are on the record. If they feel they have to continue arguing their case outside the party, that’s their decision.”

Independent Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald said she was not surprised by the resignations.

She said: “I don’t think the necessary leadership was shown towards the people who didn’t vote for the motion. They should have been treated with much more respect and understanding.”

Ms Sturgeon was today meeting the Electoral Commission to begin talks on the wording of the referendum question and how much the two sides will be allowed to spend.