In 1976, I thought about joining the SLP. I didn't do so for very long but I did think about it.
There were various reasons that I didn't but one of them was undoubtedly that I perceived it, from the outset, as a vanity project for Jim Sillars.
He was never a very disciplined politician unless he was the sole arbiter of the policy in pursuit of which that discipline was to be applied. Indeed it was that very failing which led, within three short years, to the collapse of the SLP.
Nonetheless he casts a long shadow. Be in no doubt, one of the reasons George Foulkes and Ian Davidson are particular nationalist hate figures is that they were, successively, the Labour politicians who brought his two spells at Westminster to an early demise.
And his brand of "no compromise with the electorate" politics retains a significant following within the SNP. Anybody who doubts that for a minute need only consider the famous NATO debate where, despite the policy and personnel chaos which would have resulted from defeat, the full might of the Party leadership came within a hairsbreadth of just that.
But, albeit partly by the mechanism of being headed off from the opportunity of any similar "discussions" at subsequent conferences, the Nationalist core, if not some of their minor allies in Yes Scotland, have proved remarkably compliant in pursuit of victory on September 18th, no matter how illusory that might be.
And that surely has to be right. The key significance of the vote is that it implies a clear shift of sovereignty in relation to subsequent decision making. Whatever Eck has said about post Yes events it has never for a moment been this. That, after the vote, the failure to secure a Sterling Zone, or immediate EU membership, or NATO membership on the SNP's unilateralist terms would require the referendum to be re-run. Yes means yes on whatever terms might or might not be available after the vote. The die would have been cast. The only thing not even contemplatable would be any proposal to call independence off. Indeed the essential importance of the March 2016 "vesting" date is to deprive the people of Scotland of any opportunity for second thoughts at the elections scheduled for but a few weeks later.
So why has Sillars chosen to break this consensus of silence on any reservations about the White Paper proposals? It is not that his criticisms, particularly on the currency, are without validity. Indeed they were prefigured, as long ago as November 2011 by.......me ! I even use virtually the same words. The difference of course is that I wasn't even pretending to try to be helpful to the cause of separation.
There is a reason that the SNP leadership cling to their "we'll keep Sterling" argument. It's not that they want to actually keep Sterling. It is that they believe saying that they do maximises their potential referendum vote. And there is a reason my team are so determined to discredit that argument. Because uncertainty on thecurrency point helps us. On that at least both Eck and Alistair are agreed.
So what is Sillars playing at? Is he a man of such iron principle that he simply could not keep quiet? Well he's kept pretty quiet up till now. Does he hate Salmond so much that he's willing to deliberately undermine the cause to which the have both dedicated their lives simply to deny his rival the glory? While few would doubt the premise, that would still be a pretty spectacular, and self-defeating, act of malice. Or does he believe he has a unique insight that uncertainty over the currency (for, acting alone, uncertainty is the most he can possibly achieve) will somehow assist a Yes vote? No matter what one says about Jim Sillars, nobody has ever suggested he is a stupid man.
No, the truth is more prosaic. Jim Sillars has concluded that there is no possibility of him undermining a Yes vote because he's concluded that there is no possibility of a Yes vote. And he's already looking to September 19th.
There is a reason Jim Sillars has never been a member of a devolved Scottish Parliament and that's because he is not in favour of a devolved Scottish Parliament. He remains an Independence or bust man. And there are more than a few similarly minded in the SNP. Just as many Labour members (hands up, my young self included) concluded in the aftermath of 1979 that we had lost because we were not left wing enough and many in the Tories reached a mirror image conclusion in the aftermath of their own rout in 1997, so there will be a ready audience in the SNP for an October 2014 conclusion that the reason for failure was not an excess of nationalism but rather a want of it.
And that is likely to be put to a very early test if Douglas Alexander's post referendum plan for a new Constitutional Convention comes to fruition. "More powers short of Independence?" A reply of "No thanks, traitors" will have no little traction. For, from John McCormick's resignation in 1942 through to Gordon Wilson's refusal to sign the Claim of Right, that has always been a fault line that has run through the SNP.
But this time it will be different for, if Eck and Nicola are true to their word, the question having been put and answered, actual Independence will be off the agenda "for a generation". Does everyone in the SNP accept that? Certainly much cybernat opinion would tend to suggest otherwise. And what better excuse to renege on that commitment than to maintain that it was the wrong question that was put originally.
Now, more sensible nationalists accept the likelihood of a battle on this ground but insist that the "New" SNP would triumph. The SNP of electoral success and ministerial office and (ultimately) "Indy lite". And who am I to doubt them? Although obviously the same people also thought that changing policy on NATO would be a skoosh.
But they also ignore another possibility. In internal Party battles victory and defeat are not the only options. There is a third outcome.
Which brings me back to where I started. With a leftist, purist, Party split.
Led by Jim Sillars.