By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday, two SNP MSPs resigned the party whip. John Finnie and Jean Urquhart, both representing the Highlands region, decided to leave the party because of Alex Salmond's successful, but relatively close, vote (426 to 332) at the SNP conference to reverse the SNP's long-standing opposition to NATO.
All of that sounds a bit disappointing for the First Minister – until you add the fact he was left with a majority in the Scottish Parliament of one. Now things are about to get worse for Mr Salmond: today's Daily Telegraph says a third MSP is likely to resign the SNP whip over the same issue. The Telegraph reports:
"When asked by the Daily Telegraph, John Wilson refused to confirm he would remain in the SNP in the wake of party members voting to drop its opposition to the nuclear alliance. He praised the “courageous” decision by fellow SNP backbenchers John Finnie and Jean Urquhart to quit the party yesterday and said he looked forward to working with them again in future."
Unlike the two who have already resigned, Mr Wilson was elected in 2007 rather than 2011.
All of this is rendered a little less dramatic if the two – or three – newly independent MSPs reliably vote with the SNP on non-defence issues, and they have indicated that they will. Nevertheless, it does not look good for Mr Salmond to go from having a majority of nine in the Scottish Parliament to, effectively, running a minority government. But Mr Salmond has a second major headache: he has been accused of telling "barefaced lies" on Scotland's future relationship with Europe.
Yesterday, the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, dropped a court action preventing the disclosure of whether Scottish ministers have received legal advice on the European status of an independent Scotland. She then admitted no "specific legal advice" existed despite nationalists saying Scotland would inherit European Union membership and the United Kingdom’s €uro opt-out. Things got even worse for the SNP: it further emerged that Mr Salmond had suggested earlier this year that he had obtained a legal opinion from the Scottish administration's law officers.
"This has been a Cabinet cover-up right from the beginning using taxpayers’ money to try and hoodwink the Scottish people."
And Paul Martin, a Labour MSP, said:
"It appears the First Minister is a liar and used taxpayers’ money to try to cover up his lies. Now Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that Alex Salmond never had any advice to keep secret in the first place. Alex Salmond has started the debate on Scotland’s future within the UK with barefaced lies that even embarrass his deputy."
A final blow to the First Minister came in the response to the Scottish administration's consultation on independence: 50% of respondents oppose giving the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds, as Mr Salmond wants, and 48% support it.