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SNP Friday, 22 September, 2000, 19:42 GMT 20:42 UK
Salmond: 'Breakaway is nigh'
Alex Salmond's last speech as leader
The hall had to be cleared because of a security alert
Alex Salmond has used his final address as leader of the Scottish National Party to declare that independence would arrive "in this political generation".

Mr Salmond, who steps down on Saturday after a decade as leader, made the forecast in his speech to the SNP annual conference in Inverness.

After an upbeat assessment of the party's electoral gains during that period he told activists: "We have built the SNP over these last 10 years on the rock of our own tradition - not New Labour's shifting sands.

"The founders of our party realised that independence was not an event but a process.

"We are now in that process - the process of independence."

This party will win a referendum on Scottish independence

Alex Salmond
His speech, delivered on a day on which a newspaper opinion poll gave the SNP a widening lead over Labour in voting intentions for the Scottish Parliament, went on to pledge: "Independence will arrive in this political generation.

"It has been a privilege to lead you part of the way. I look forward to helping my successor and you complete our journey."

Mr Salmond's successor will be either his deputy, John Swinney, 36, a gradualist, and left winger Alex Neil, 49, who favours a more urgent campaigning edge.

Progress charted

By contrast with its opponents, the nationalists' political cup was running over with New Labour vulnerable, the Tories not trusted, and the Liberal Democrats "like moths caught in Labour's flame", said the SNP leader.

Mr Salmond charted the party's progress in the 10 years he had led it, from a position where it had four MPs in a Westminster parliament of 650 to its current position of having 35 MSPs out of 129 at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

Of this, Mr Salmond said: "It is not Labour's parliament, but Scotland's parliament.

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond: "It is Scotland's parliament"
"Sure, it has struggled to emerge from the shadow of the incompetence of the Labour-Liberal executive. But it will develop, it will grow."

And he declared: "George Robertson - Lord Robertson of Nato - said that devolution would kill the SNP stone dead.

"Instead the Scots parliament is our passport to independence."

Mr Salmond went on: "Let us be quite clear. A popular SNP administration will hold a popular vote for freedom.

"This party will win a referendum on Scottish independence."

He depicted his party as a moderate left of centre party with a radical edge to its social programme, committed to a "competitive" economic policy.

"We are ambitious for Scotland. The challenge is to connect all of these social and economic hopes to an independence reality."

The SNP conference
Delegates gave Mr Salmond a standing ovation
But the end of his speech was marred by fears over security at the Eden Court Theatre.

After taking delegates' applause, Mr Salmond returned to the podium to say he had received a police message asking that the hall be cleared.

He said the conference would go into recess for 20 minutes after which it would finish its business as "the democratic party of Scotland".

A spokesman for Northern Constabulary said they had received a call saying a device had been left at the conference.

A police contingency plan was then put into action to cope with the emergency.

Alex Neil and John Swinney
Alex Neil and John Swinney leave after the security alert
Speaking to BBC News Online Scotland outside the hall, Mr Salmond said: "People asked me if I minded my speech and the ovation at the end being truncated, well I got quite an ovation at the start.

"I had to cut short, cut a line or two out of the speech at the end because the police asked us to finish.

"That was for two reasons, one was to ensure an orderly procession from the hall and secondly, because we don¿t want to give cranks and nutters any sense of victory."

Delegates were allowed to return to the hall after almost an hour to resume the day's business.

The mood outside the conference hall was relaxed, there were three police vehicles outside the theatre and a police officer with a tannoy announced that delegates would be allowed back in shortly.

The BBC's Andrew Cassell reports
"Delegates who'll vote tomorrow, listened to the final pitches from the two candidates"
Alex Salmond's last speech as SNP Leader
"Independence will arrive in this political generation"
Political editor Brian Taylor reports
"He didn't name his preferred successor, but his coded choice was clear"


SNP live coverage

See also:

22 Sep 00 | Scotland
21 Sep 00 | SNP
21 Sep 00 | SNP
21 Sep 00 | SNP
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