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Thursday, September 24, 1998 Published at 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK


UK Politics

Devolution just the beginning - Ewing

The SNP will have to win voters' confidence, said Margaret Ewing

The Scottish National Party conference has heard that a devolved Scottish parliament is "only a beginning".

The party's Parliamentary leader Margaret Ewing said the opportunities offered by devolution marked the start of a renewed nationalist "crusade".

"Our country can be gently moved forward. We can develop a democratic parliament elected by the sovereign will of the people of Scotland", she declared.

Mrs Ewing said she wanted a parliament with powers to "reform social and economic life for the better".

Her comments come three days after Jim Wallace, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, accused the SNP, Labour and the Tories of betraying the spirit of Scottish devolution by failing to look to the future.

She also denied Labour claims that the nationalists would be "wreckers".

"I have not spent the whole of my adult life to wreck, to destroy, to see stillborn, Scotland's new parliament," said Mrs Ewing.

"I see it is a stepping stone to greater confidence, not just to the birth but to the rebirth of our nation, the rebirth of democratic priorities, and the rebirth of international and domestic responsibilities."

Trust

Despite the party's success in opinion polls indicating strong support for the SNP in the run-up to next May's Scottish parliamentary elections, Mrs Ewing made it clear there was no room for complacency.


[ image: Margaret Ewing: No time for complacency]
Margaret Ewing: No time for complacency
"The party must earn the trust of the voters, to show that as a civic society we can advance - advance to the enterprise, compassion and democracy we wish to exist at home and to extend abroad.

"As the inheritors of democratic principals, we must spell out, louder than ever, the normality of taking our own decisions.

"It's not unique, you know. Fifty-three Commonwealth countries have become independent in just over 130 years. They are the norm, we are the unusual ones."

Mrs Ewing also committed the SNP to reforming the "unelected quangos" running Scotland's further education colleges to bring further education under local control.

Her speech, which won a standing ovation, was delivered to a conference acutely conscious of the proximity of next May's elections and of the increasingly strong attacks on them by Labour.

Calls by grass-roots activists for the SNP to declare itself in favour of using the parliament's powers to raise the rate of income tax met with little support.

Instead, delegates put their weight behind a pledge not to consider income tax changes until the party had carried out a detailed review of existing spending in Scotland.

'Nuclear tax'

Another debate on energy policy saw open dissent on the phasing out of Scotland's nuclear power stations.

SNP policy vice-convenor Alex Neil said Scots were paying £140m a year in "nuclear tax".

He said the SNP would phase out nuclear power over the lifetime of the Torness and Hunterston stations.

Mr Neil pledged that this would not be done until alternative jobs had been found for the workers there.

But some activists argued that alternative energy sources could not make up the difference.



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