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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 September 2005, 19:54 GMT 20:54 UK
SNP faithful's Highland gathering
Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond hopes to steer the SNP to greater success
The Scottish National Party has opened its annual conference claiming an independent Scotland could expect an oil bonanza for decades to come.

Party leaders also outlined their ambition to secure devolved power at Holyrood.

SNP leader Alex Salmond and the party's Holyrood leader Nicola Sturgeon launched the Nationalists' 71st national conference in Aviemore.

Debates on the first day included climate change and penal policy.

Mr Salmond set his party the target of winning 20 more first-past-the-post seats at the next Holyrood election.

The Nationalists currently hold nine constituency seats in Holyrood plus 18 list seats.

And they calculate that 20 more seats would make them the biggest single party in a parliament whose electoral system makes it hard for any party to secure an outright majority.

This winning habit will stand the party in good stead as we build towards winning the 20 first-past-the-post seats we need to win the Scottish election in 2007
Alex Salmond
SNP leader

Mr Salmond said the Nationalists had made "significant progress" since last year's conference.

He said: "In May we won seats from Labour for the first time in a Westminster election since the 1970s, and in the process gained two fantastic new MPs in Stewart Hosie and Angus MacNeil.

"As promised the SNP made significant electoral progress over the last year, and so this winning habit will stand the party in good stead as we build towards winning the 20 first-past-the-post seats we need to win the Scottish election in 2007."

Policy agenda

However, hard-liners seeking a sharper stand on independence complained delegates were being given no opportunity to debate the fundamentalists' concerns.

Activist James Robb tried, and failed, to table a resolution which would have committed the SNP to contest the 2007 Holyrood elections on the single issue of independence.

Policies on hospital treatment, student finance and taxation also feature in debates at the conference.

SNP conference delegate
The Aviemore conference runs through until Saturday

SNP tax policies were to face scrutiny with a debate between those who support the fostering of economic growth and those favouring redistribution to help the poor.

Ms Sturgeon said the conference gave the party the chance to set out its vision for a better Scotland.

"With a wide range of debates to be covered over the next four days we have a platform to show the people of Scotland the difference that the SNP and independence can make to our country," she said.

"From the future of the health service to improving our children's education and growing Scotland's economy this conference will set out the SNP's policy agenda as we prepare to win in 2007."

'Re-energise party'

BBC Scotland political editor, Brian Taylor, said: "There's a core debate going on within the SNP between those whose primary concern is economic growth and those whose primary concern is wealth redistribution.

"We're seeing that in the debate over taxation and that's a fundamental debate for pretty much all the parties. It's been a debate at the Liberal Democrat conference this week as well."

Brian said the forthcoming by-elections in Glasgow Cathcart and Livingston were adding further energy to the conference.

He said: "But at the same time the SNP has to reflect upon the general election performance when, yes, it did achieve the target that Alex Salmond set, it made progress, it gained seats, but the more mature in the party will look at the voting share and just wonder how they can re-energise the party."

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