THE Scottish National Party is facing the largest division in its ranks for a decade after its executive voted at the weekend to back, by 13 votes to 11, the decision of its three MPs to vote with the Government in last week's Commons vote on Maastricht.
The spectre of 1982, when five prominent members of the SNP were expelled (including the present leader, Alex Salmond), resurfaced after the MPs avoided censure motions. Three members of the 'Scottish Cabinet' - the group of leading party spokesmen - announced that they were resigning yesterday.
The SNP's three MPs voted with the Government last week after a deal was agreed with Ian Lang, the Secretary of State for Scotland, to guarantee elected SNP councillors a place on the European Community's Committee of the Regions. The Government lost the vote, leaving the nationalists looking tactically nave.
Vilification of the SNP, the dominant theme of Labour's three-day annual Scottish conference in Inverness, increased yesterday with news of the executive vote. While Mr Salmond's immediate task will be to placate party members, Labour will use the opportunity to drive for new members, especially in its youth wing.