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Scottish political crisis deepens over Trident nuclear weapons

Scots Labour Party wide open

The Scotsman [Edinburgh]

EDINBURGH (23 December 2006) - MALCOLM Chisholm yesterday claimed his dramatic resignation from the Cabinet reflected a widely held view in the Scottish Labour Party that Tony Blair's plan to renew Trident was wrong.

The former communities minister was forced out after voting with the SNP against updating the 25 billion nuclear warheads on the Clyde (River, at Faslane, just outside the city of Glasgow, which has declared itself many years ago a "nuclear-free zone" - editor).

He said his vote on Thursday which led to his resignation was a matter of conscience that is reflected across the Scottish Labour Party, which was previously opposed to Trident yet is forced to take Westminster's lead on a reserved issue.

Other MSPs claimed the unease with Trident goes right to the top of Scottish Labour to Jack McConnell, the First Minister.

Mr Chisholm said: "A lot of people in the party do share the views that I have expressed. There is a wide range of views expressed in the Labour Party my own is that people should be able to express those views."

He said he has had a lot of support since resigning, both from within the Labour Party and among ordinary voters.

"I think it is a fact of life on some issues that people are going to hold different views, particularly on such complex and important issues. Now it is important that people are free to show their views in a debate."

A BBC poll has already found the majority of Scottish MPs are against replacing Trident.

Ultimately, Mr Chisholm said he would like to see more MSPs able to vote with their conscience.

He said: "People have to speak up on an important issue and in my view, even if you are a minister, there is not an issue when it is a reserved matter. People need to get a lot more relaxed about that. I hope the Scottish Parliament will develop in such a way that becomes part of the culture."

Elaine Smith, the Labour MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston who also voted with the SNP, also said her view reflected a "widely held view" in the Labour Party.

"For me these are weapons of mass destruction. I do not want us to spend millions of pounds on replacing them when there is so much else to spend the money on," she said.

Marlyn Glen, another Labour MSP who voted with the SNP, said the unease went to the top of the party. She said: "I think there is a range of opinions and there is definitely great support for the idea that the whole thing should be debated and we should express our views clearly."

Margo MacDonald, an Independent MSP, said Mr McConnell is against replacing Trident but is forced to follow the UK line . "Jack now has an election to fight and a party to keep together and that is his priority." She said the majority of Labour MSPs are against replacing Trident and predicted the party would have to make a united decision eventually.

"There are a considerable number of the Labour Party group opposed to replacing Trident but realistically they know they do not have the powers in the Scottish Parliament to make this particular decision so they to look where their particular interests are and they identify their interests at the moment with supporting the official party line. I personally do not think that it will hold over the longer term."

Having spoken out in favour of nuclear disarmament in the past, Mr McConnell repeatedly refused to give an opinion on replacing Trident until he backed Mr Blair's announcement the system would be updated.

Yesterday, Mr McConnell's spokesman said his position remained consistent. He said: "The world has changed. Most people now realise that multilateral disarmament is the way forward for the world rather than unilateral disarmament."

The Right Reverend Alan McDonald, the moderator of the Church of Scotland and a leading opponent of Trident, called for more MSPs to speak out.

He said: "What does it say about politics in this country if people are not able to use their consciences when they vote."

Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy leader of the SNP, questioned whether Mr Chisholm should have been forced out for his views.

"Only two weeks ago the First Minister called for people in his own party to speak with their own consciences on this vital issue, but now has forced a minister to resign over the issue. Why is it that this First Minister cannot tolerate colleagues who take a principled stance on the major issues of the day?"

Ms Sturgeon has written to Sir John Elvidge, the Executive's permanent secretary, to clarify whether ministers can speak out on particular issues. "It is a sign of supreme weakness for Mr McConnell to refuse to tolerate the sort of debate that he encouraged only two weeks ago. This is just one further example of why it's time for strong leadership in Scotland, and a principled First Minster who means what he says and says what he means."

Source: http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1905382006

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