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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK

Nationalists unveil blueprint for independence

Scotland could join the single currency in 2003, the SNP said

Scotland would be a "rich country" under independence and would be ready to join the European Single Currency by the year 2003, according to the Scottish National Party .

Colin Blane in Glasgow: Tony Blair said it would be an expensive divorce
The party published its economic blueprint for separation promising that an unshackled Scotland under the SNP would definitely apply to join the Euro but would remain linked to sterling until entry could be obtained.

But the launch of the financial package was immediately seized on by the nationalists' political opponents, who said the party was misleading voters by claiming Scotland could pay its own way.

BBC Scotland political correspondent Kenny Macintyre reports
SNP leader Alex Salmond said there was no question Scotland would meet the criteria for joining the single currency and evidence showed it would be in a strong position for fiscal manoeuvre by the year 2003.

He said: "This (document) is about the policy options - identifying the weaknesses in the Scottish economy given the years of neglect from Westminster."

"We are identifying the weaknesses, given the inability, without substantial fiscal room for manoeuvre and without regulatory power, to address the underlying difficulties that we see in the economy."

Mr Salmond said the economy had the ability to compete with the "best in Europe" if Scotland was allowed to go it alone.

However, under questioning Mr Salmond conceded that in the worst case scenario Scotland could have a fiscal deficit of 1.7bn in the short term.

Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was campaigning in Glasgow, said the document proved independence would be a disaster for Scotland.

He said: "The Scottish National Party is simpy not being honest with people about the enormous costs of their programme - the costs of a separate currency, separate social security system, separate defence and foreign policy.

Huge undertakings

"These are huge undertakings and we already know their proposals for the Scottish Parliament mean tax increases. The effect on jobs and investment would be enormous."

[ image: Charles Kennedy attacked the timing of the SNP document]
Charles Kennedy attacked the timing of the SNP document
And the timing of the SNP document's release - less than a week before the election - was seized upon by Liberal Democrat MP Charles Kennedy.

He said: "It's unbelievable that having waited 300 years for this parliament and now being in the closing days of the campaign only now do the SNP come forward as the nationalist, independence party with their detailed blueprint for what independence actually means."

"I think that tells you a lot about their self-confidence and these figures should be taken with a very large dose of salt."

Tory leader William Hague launched an attack on the government's taxation record as he joined Scottish Tories on the campaign trail.

And Mr Hague said he was in Scotland to demonstrate the united Conservative approach to policies.

"Some of the main pledges of the Scottish party in this election are about improving schools, about university education, about improving the service people receive in hospitals in Scotland," he said.

"Successful public services are very important to this country. We are not going to have the Scottish Conservative Party caricatured any more as a party that doesn't believe in that."

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