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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 March, 2005, 18:36 GMT
SNP reveals independence agenda
Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon made a call for Scottish independence
The SNP's Holyrood leader has branded Tony Blair's government the "most authoritarian" in living memory.

Nicola Sturgeon used a keynote speech to her party's conference in Dundee to attack Labour's plans for ID cards.

She also hinted at the prime minister's handling of the Iraq war and heaped blame on Tony Blair for turning voters off politics.

And Ms Sturgeon challenged First Minister Jack McConnell to take personal responsibility over the NHS.

She told the Nationalists' pre-election conference that Mr McConnell should "hang his head in shame".

Independence is the freedom for our country that we cherish for ourselves as individuals
Nicola Sturgeon

Ms Sturgeon claimed Scotland's health service was getting worse under the Labour-led Scottish Executive.

And she insisted Mr McConnell should make the executive's promise that by the end of the year no patient will wait more than six months to see a consultant, a personal pledge.

"If that promise is broken, as many before have been broken, if patients are let down again, sacking another health minister won't be good enough," Ms Sturgeon told the party faithful.

"I issue this challenge to Jack McConnell: make it a personal pledge, put your job on the line.

"Tell Scottish patients that if you fail to deliver, again, if you are not up to the job, then you'll hand over to someone who is up to the job of sorting out Scotland's NHS."

McConnell accused

Ms Sturgeon also railed against Tony Blair, blaming the Prime Minister for public disillusion with politics, and pleaded with people in Scotland to turn out to vote during her half-hour long speech to the party faithful.

In an address, culminating in a rallying call for the SNP's long-standing desire for independence, she said Scots were "downcast by the disappointments of devolution" in its first six years but had no desire to return to "remote rule from London".

Although devolved to MSPs who are not affected by the forthcoming Westminster election - health was a key focus of Ms Sturgeon's address.

She accused Mr McConnell of "contemptuous arrogance" at Holyrood on Thursday when she produced figures suggesting an eight-fold rise in outpatients waiting over a year to see a consultant between 1999 and last year.

On the same measure, inpatient waiting times had also risen under his stewardship, she claimed.

Television apology

"Any decent national leader would have used live television to apologise to each and every one of these long suffering patients," she added.

The SNP would, she argued, train more doctors and nurses and invest in fast-track diagnostic and treatment centres within the NHS - "not hived off to the private sector".

Ms Sturgeon began by highlighting the rising membership and growing party funds since she and party leader Alex Salmond took charge of the party.

Placing activists on "high alert" for the coming election campaign, she insisted only Nationalists could "make Scotland matter" as Labour, Lib Dems and Tories were focused south of the border.

Ms Sturgeon, concluding a steady, focused and well-received address, renewed calls for Scotland to go its own way, telling activists: "Independence is the freedom for our country that we cherish for ourselves as individuals."


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