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Alex Salmond
"I am relaxed and confident about the judgement of party activists"
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Chief political correspondent John Morrison reports
The leadership candidates' supporters air their views
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banner Thursday, 21 September, 2000, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
SNP leader sides with deputy
Herald front page
The leadership contest is nearly over
Outgoing Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond has appeared to endorse his deputy in the contest to replace him.

Mr Salmond, who is stepping down after a decade in the job, was speaking on the first full day of business at the SNP's annual conference in Inverness.

The focus of the three-day gathering falls on Saturday's vote in which activists will choose either deputy leader John Swinney or policy vice-convener Alex Neil.

Speaking to BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme on Friday, he again refused firmly to back either of the candidates.

I think they made the right decision 10 years ago and I suspect they'll make the right decision on Saturday

Alex Salmond
But he gave an element of endorsement to Mr Swinney by defining the SNP's official policy on achieving independence.

A revised strategy drawn up by party leaders involves winning the Scottish Parliament elections in 2003, then securing victory in an independence referendum within the following four years.

This, they say, would force Westminster to legislate for a breakaway by 2007.

The plan became policy in March after - significantly within the context of Mr Salmond's comments - it was proposed to the national council by Mr Swinney.

Mr Neil takes a more fundamental view which is that an election victory itself is a mandate for independence.

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond: "We've adopted the right policy"
Mr Salmond said: "You would have to have a referendum on independence and you had better put the question in the best way possible, which in the principal case is independence.

"That's after all what the Labour Party did with devolution in 1997 and of course there was a huge majority, which we campaigned for, for 'yes, yes'.

"If you compare that with the 1979 referendum, instead of putting the question openly and honestly to the people there was a long parliamentary process of legislation, like a negotiation, where the people who were against it did everything possible to put in blocking mechanisms and all the rest of it.

"I think the precedent is quite clear that the way you ask the question is on the principle and then with that mandate you'll have no obstacles and roadblocks put in your way.

Overwhelming backing

"I think the policy we've adoped is the right policy. We adopted it overwhelmingly in March and certainly I hope the Scottish National Party sticks to it because it's the way to get independence."

Asked if that meant he was backing Mr Swinney to take over, he replied: "What I'm saying is the party's view, that we passed overwhelmingly at our national council this March.

"I'm relaxed and confident about the judgement of party activists as I've always been. I think the SNP activists have a pretty good track record in selecting their leaders.

John Swinney
John Swinney: Shares policy view
"I think they made the right decision 10 years ago and I suspect they'll make the right decision on Saturday."

In other business, the conference backed transport spokesman Kenny McAskill's call for an immediate 10p cut in the price of a gallon of fuel.

He pointed out that Scotland produced the most oil in Europe but had the highest fuel prices in the civilised world.

The conference also backed a call for an immediate summit of all political parties, oil companies and all interested industries to address the situation.

Thursday's agenda includes a call for councils to withhold money from the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

The move is aimed at maintaining pressure on Education Minister Sam Galbraith over the exams fiasco.

Highland Council has already decided to freeze its payment in protest at the way the SQA has handled this year's exams.

The Inverness branch of the SNP has tabled a motion calling on all Scottish local autorities to follow suit.

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The voting system the SNP will use to elect a new leader
The vote for SNP leader

See also:

21 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Call for lower diesel duty
20 Sep 00 | Scotland
Exams chaos inquiry opens
19 Sep 00 | SNP
Conference agenda
18 Sep 00 | Scotland
SNP hopefuls clash on independence
26 Mar 00 | Scotland
Path clear for SNP breakaway plan
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