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Wednesday, September 22, 1999 Published at 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK


UK: Scotland

Salmond renews independence pledge

The nationalist MSPs celebrate election success in the May poll

The leader of the Scottish National Party has declared his party has never been in a stronger position to deliver independence to Scotland.


Iain Macdonald at the first SNP conference since the Scottish Parliament elections
Alex Salmond sought to silence the critics at the opening of the party's annual conference in Inverness.

He told reporters at the Inverness gathering that the party was stronger and more united than ever before and reiterated the SNP's commitment to an independent Scotland.

Mr Salmond said: "The essence of the internal debate - whether or not independence will be achieved through a devolved parliament - has been settled.


[ image: Alex Salmond: United Party]
Alex Salmond: United Party
"Independence will be delivered via a successful Scottish Parliament, and a dynamic SNP working hard to make Scotland's new democracy work well."

Mr Salmond added: "The SNP begin our conference in excellent heart, and with a stronger base of support than at any point in our history."

The SNP leader used the latest statistics to illustrate how close he believed the party is to winning overall power in Scotland.


BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor on the SNP's post-election strategy
He told conference members: "The results of the Scottish Parliament election show that we are within touching distance of becoming the leading party in Scotland.

"A 3% swing would put the SNP ahead of Labour in the regional list ballot and a 5% swing would propel us ahead of Labour in the first-past-the-post vote.

"Indeed, a swing of 12% - taking SNP support into the low 40s - would put us well on the way to achieving an overall majority, with some 60 seats."


Mike Russell: "We did exceptionally well in the election"
Mr Salmond said the strong platform which had already been built through achievements in the last 12 months would help in winning the next Scottish election.

The conference timetable will concentrate on Labour's fuel tax policy, welfare cuts, social housing and the SNP's strategy for the future.

Throughout the get-together, activists are expected to be urged to join in modernising the party.


[ image: Mike Russell:
Mike Russell: "Looking to the future"
They will be told they must become more organised and concentrate on winning the 2003 elections to the Scottish Parliament.

This conference theme was made public when Mike Russell, who is now a South of Scotland region MSP, said the party "could do better" and must set its sights on toppling Labour.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Mr Russell said the party had reason to celebrate its success but must move forward.

He defended the party's "penny for Scotland" policy, which was criticised in some quarters as a vote loser during the elections, and said a "whispering campaign" against Alex Salmond would fail to unseat him as leader.



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