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EDITIONS
SNP Monday, 24 September, 2001, 11:13 GMT 12:13 UK
Hands off MSP numbers says SNP
Dr Winnie Ewing
Winnie Ewing said Westminster was "jealous"
The prime minister has been warned not to interfere with the number of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish National Party president Winnie Ewing told Tony Blair to keep his hands off the Scottish Parliament.

In her closing speech to the party's conference in Dundee, Dr Ewing said democracy would be under threat in Scotland if the size of the Scottish Parliament was reduced from its present levels.

She said the parliament's present size of 129 MSPs was the minimum number needed for it to function.

Dr Winnie Ewing at the podium
Dr Ewing's speech came at the close of the conference
She accused jealous Westminster MPs of threatening to "cut the Parliament down to size".

Delegates gave her a standing ovation after a keynote speech in which she asserted her belief in independence.

Scotland has 72 Westminster constituencies but a boundary review is widely expected to reduce this by as many as 20 to better reflect the size of Scotland's population.

Under the devolution legislation, the number of seats in the Scottish Parliament is related to the number of Westminster constituencies.

A reduction to the mid-50s would imply a reduction from 129 MSPs to about 100.

But Ms Ewing told the conference: "Let's send Blair the message, hands off our Parliament."

Distinguished and innovative

She told activists that 129 MSPs was the minimum workable number, small in comparison to similarly-populated EU states, and with 100 backbenchers manning 16 committees.

"The Scottish Parliament is distinguished and innovative and has dared to legislate ahead of England," she said.

"Yet from London we hear crude threats that if the Scottish Parliament persists debating reserved matters, it will be cut down to size."

She claimed the main threat was to the 56 proportional representation seats in parliament, whose abolition could lead to single party majority rule rather than the present Holyrood system, in which all parties are minorities.

In a later close-of-conference address, deputy SNP leader Roseanna Cunningham also asserted the importance of independence.

"There is no back burner on which independence can be put," she said.


Independence is at the very heart of everything this party does. It underpins every one of our policies.

Deputy leader Roseanna Cunningham
"Independence is at the very heart of everything this party does. It underpins every one of our policies."

Earlier on Saturday, the party passed a resolution calling for a halt to prison privatisation and a pay and conditions review for prison staff.

A resolution calling for a comprehensive review of UK taxation to create a fairer, more progressive, and simpler system was also passed by SNP delegates.

A bid by some activists to harden the SNP's opposition to a controversial housing reorganisation in Glasgow was narrowly defeated.

Housing stock transfer

A call, led by the party's trade union group, for the party to campaign for a "no" vote in a ballot to be held soon by the city's council house tenants was shelved.

But the party's MSPs won the debate only after a passionate argument and winning by 167 votes to 138 - a majority of just 29 votes.

The proposed handover of Glasgow's council housing stock to a housing association, tied to a lifting of the city's housing debt burden, is the biggest council housing stock transfer planned so far in Britain.

Advocates of a tougher line by the party claimed that tenants and council employees were expecting a political lead to be shown by the SNP.

But shadow social justice spokesman Kenny Gibson and others argued the party must have the freedom to win more concessions, and could not declare its stance on the ballot until final details of the handover proposals were known.

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 ON THIS STORY
Political Editor Brian Taylor
"Dr Ewing described the parliament as a useful base camp and one worth defending."
See also:

22 Jul 01 | Scotland
19 Sep 01 | SNP
12 Sep 01 | Scotland
18 Sep 01 | Scotland
26 Aug 01 | Scotland
23 Sep 00 | SNP
23 Sep 00 | SNP
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