Jim Sillars: Who is the 90 minute patriot now? | Autonomy Scotland

Jim Sillars: Who is the 90 minute patriot now?

Jim Sillars coined the phrase “90 minute patriots to describe part time SNP voters, after he lost his Westminster seat in the 1992 general election.

However, it is fair to say a similar allegation could be made against him now.

To use his own football analogy, if winning independence for Scotland was a European double header nobody could doubt that Sillars gave 110 percent in the first leg. However, now his heart doesn’t seem to be in it and he’s set to retire before the decisive rematch. That’s if the second leg includes the condition of  rejoining the EU.

Sillars was recently quoted as saying:

I did not vote to come out the EU to go back in. I think that would apply to a good number of the estimated 400,000 Yes voters who voted Leave. I imagine they would abstain


Jim Sillars

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If I am being honest, I think that Jim Sillars is a person who generally talks a lot of sense and even now I agree with a lot of what he says.

I think it may well be wise to wait until after we get a clearer picture about what happens with the article 50 process before calling a second indyref. I too don’t think that the EU is a perfect institution and I think many of the concerns that Sillars and others have raised about it are justified. I also think that other options for remaining in the Single Market, like joining  EFTA, should be considered.

Yet I still don’t understand the logic of Sillars when he says.

I, for example, could not vote Yes if on the ballot paper it said, ‘We wish the Scottish state to be a member of the European Union.

You see, while I consider all of Sillars’ objections about an independent Scotland being in the EU valid, those objections still need to be weighed up against the alternative. So, if Sturgeon were to call the indyref that Sillars dreads, a pro EU one held in 2018, the decision on how to vote should be a simple one for anyone who purports to support independence.

The choice would be between Scotland being a region of the UK in a  post Brexit Tory race to the bottom or Scotland being an independent nation within an imperfect supranational organisation.

Politics is about pragmatism, and while this is not the perfect situation, one option is independence and the other is dependence.

I take the point that being part of the EU means that many of our decisions are outsourced to Brussels and that to some this is not true sovereignty. Yet, power and sovereignty are not the same things. Unlike Scotland, EU nations are truly sovereign, they just choose to share some powers in exchange for what they see as greater collective strength and bargaining power.

Yet, as we have talked about in more detail before, an independent Scotland within the EU would still have far more power that it currently has. We would gain control over  the following from Westminster:

  • benefits and social security
  • immigration
  • defence
  • foreign policy
  • employment
  • broadcasting
  • trade and industry
  • nuclear energy, oil, coal, gas and electricity
  • consumer rights
  • data protection
  • the Constitution

Before the EU referendum, the pro independence Leave voters like Sillars talked up how Brexit would make Holyrood more powerful.

They talked about powers over agriculture and fishing being repatriated to Holyrood. However, if you pay close attention to what high ranking Tories are saying, those powers are going to be  stolen by London post Brexit. By not supporting independence within the EU given the choice, Sillars is going to be helping to facilitate a Westminster power-grab of competencies, while denying Scotland control over those powers currently reserved to Westminster.


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Ultimately independence is about giving the people of Scotland control of their own affairs.

A large majority of the people of Scotland voted to remain in the EU as did the bulk of our parliamentarians. People like Sillars are free to campaign to change the minds of Scots but to say you are in favour of independence but also want to subvert the will of the people is a big contradiction.

What has happened since the EU referendum is that a large amount of people have moved from No to Yes and vice versa.

Those who have moved to Yes want Scotland to be in the EU and don’t like the prospect of a post Brexit UK.

If we move in the direction that Sillars wants us to move we might attract him back but probably at the expense of losing those newly recruited pro EU No voters. Yet, if we stay pro EU surely we will win many of the pragmatic Yes/Leave voters back to the cause?

Ultimately, although an independent Scotland within the EU is not ideal to many. It is a damn site closer to ideal than the alternative.

When push comes to shove, if 2014 euro-sceptic Yes voters abstain or vote No in indyref2, when only the Yes choice makes Scotland sovereign and fulfills the will of the people, then it is fair to question why they voted Yes in 2014. Then after-all, the plan was to stay in the imperfect EU was it not?

Ruling yourself out of the second leg and still calling yourself a nationalist doesn’t make sense when you look at the alternative.

In that context, if Sillars can only be relied on for one match of an indyref double header, then maybe he too is just a 90 minute patriot.

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7 years ago

I don’t understand people like Sillars. When we’re independent we can choose our own future rather than it being dictated by people at Westminster that Scots don’t vote for. Once we are independent we can decide whether to stay in the EU or leave if it doesn’t suit us. We have no choice at the moment. He also seems very sanguine about Scotland suffering a generation of hard right Tory rule. I’m sure like me he remembers the 18 year Tory rule in the 80s and 90s. Anything is better than a repeat of that.

David Fee
David Fee
7 years ago

Also, as someone pointed out to me recently, an independent Scotland could always hold it’s own referendum to leave the EU in the future. If that were to become an issue in Scotland. The fundamental point is that we would have control of our destiny.

It is a very odd, quite sad, position that Jim Sillars is taking.

The Pragmatic One
The Pragmatic One
7 years ago

Having read what Jim Sillars has said I simply cannot understand how he could ever contemplate abstaining in the next Independence Vote. In reality that is voting NO. It is completely absurd to claim you support independence but then say that if the EU is anything to do with it I will abstain. How any “real” supporter of independence would be content to see Westminster win the referendum and then reduce Scotland to a region of imposed Tory madness is beyond me. I am fairly sure that the Scottish Parliament would also be a casualty of a NO victory. Does… Read more »

7 years ago

Can i get a refund on my, now slightly old, Independence in Europe T-Shirt?

Alex Oswald
Alex Oswald
7 years ago

I find myself leaning towards a similar opinion as the one expressed by Jim Sillars. There appears to be a dysfunctional element to the EU which requires an approach akin to ” keeping our powder dry “. It might be 2 years until Indyref 2. ” A week is a long time in politics ” so I’d counsel a slow build up rather than coming screaming out of the blocks. Everything we want should come gradually back to the negotiating stance. I personally would start with a stop. Trident !

7 years ago
Reply to  Alex Oswald

Sillars might be right about the best case scenario. Still, I don’t see why if given the choice he would abstain. Even if the choice is not the one he wanted I find it hard to believe he wouldn’t be able to choose between independence in Europe and Scotland within the UK.

7 years ago

Out the UK and the EU! Anything else isn’t independence.

7 years ago
Reply to  Alan

I understand that is what you want but the question is how are you going to get it?

And, in the second indyref, when the option is between Scotland in the EU, or Scotland out of the EU but in the UK, what option would you choose. ie, although neither of those options is your ideal scenario, one of them must seem better than the other to you.


[…] Perhaps, though, it is the high political stakes being played for this decade, coupled with football’s now undisputed prominence in the cultural landscape, that has led to players past and present being drafted into matters of public import. During the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, separation was endorsed by recent internationals Michael Stewart and Steve Archibald while the Better Together campaign lined up both Barry and Alex Ferguson, as well as Alan Hansen and Billy McNeill and others (doubtless all the sorts once dismissed by SNP controversialist Jim Sillars as ’90 minute patriots’). […]

William Wallace
William Wallace
2 years ago

You can’t have a left wing government in Scotland if there is a right wing government just across the border in England. Businesses in Scotland are going to reallocate to England with its Thatcherite economic policies of low taxation, low public expenditure and minimal regulation. Scotland needs tax revenue to pay for public services. How can it do that if businesses and high income earners reallocate to England. It will be a race to the bottom with Scotland competing with England over lowering taxes and public expenditure to attract big business. The working people on both sides of the border… Read more »

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