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Thursday, September 24, 1998 Published at 16:24 GMT 17:24 UK

UK Politics

SNP vote to look before they tax

No taxation without examination: The SNP will examine the finances first

The Scottish Nationalist Party voted at its annual conference not to consider using the Scottish Parliament's tax-varying powers until it has examined the state of the country's finances.

BBC News' Norman Smith: SNP poliicies yet to be challenged
The SNP's pledge comes after the issue of tax and the prospect of some businesses choosing to move across the border to England overshadowed the opening day of its conference in Inverness on Wednesday.

The decision to carry out a "critical examination" of the Scottish Office budget before considering using the powers to vary income tax by up to 3p above or below the rate across the rest of the UK was massively backed on a show of hands.

But the pledge brought complaints during the debate from SNP activists who argued the party should declare a willingness to raise tax.

Edinburgh North delegate Martin Farley voiced dissent when he told the conference: "All the efficiency savings in the world will not deliver the kind of social agenda the SNP wants and the people of Scotland deserve."

He said he suspected the resolution could prove a "back door" way of saying the party would not use tax-varying powers.

He was supported by Glasgow Baillieston delegate John Mason, who said: "I would accept that we are not 100% sure that we should be raising this extra 3p in income tax.

"But I for one am 99% sure we need to be raising this money in income tax."

SNP treasury spokesman John Swinney had opened the debate by saying there could still be open discussion on the issue.

He said the party should be involved in debate about whether to expand the financial base of the Scottish Parliament by using tax-varying powers, or to confine policies to the existing £14bn budget of the Scottish Office.

But he added that the party was "not in a position today to make that judgement".

"The tax issue is sensitive. Nobody knows that more than me.

"But at least we are having an honest, open and frank debate in the public domain about whether we are going to be for a party that purports using the tax-varying powers, rather than being told by our London masters that we are not going to be able to do it."

He promised the programme the SNP would put forward would be "robust", fully-costed and would take account of current Scottish Office spending priorities.

He also attacked Labour for its refusal to give the SNP details of how existing money was spent - a concession Labour itself had been given in opposition .

He said: "It's a bit rich for a party that parades its credentials to open government but will not share that information with the principal opposition party in Scotland."

Ewing sees power on the horizon

SNP parliamentary leader Margaret Ewing told conference that the political climate had changed and the party stood on the brink of real power.

"Scotland is enjoying its first political spring with the formation of the Scottish Parliament," she said. "The Ice Age of Thatcherism is receding, the fog of Unionism is lifting.

"There is a huge upsurge in Scottish confidence."

Mrs Ewing made it clear, however, that despite the SNP running high in the polls, there was no room for complacency.

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