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Wednesday, September 22, 1999 Published at 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK

UK: Scotland

Maverick Margo pulls no punches

Ms Macdonald's attack comes during the SNP's conference

Political maverick and Scottish National Party veteran Margo Macdonald has warned the party to forget about buzzwords like modernisation and focus on the real issue - Scottish independence.

Her strong statement came during a BBC Radio 4 interview in which she said some nationalists had "lost the plot".

Margo Macdonald: "Some nationalists have lost the plot"
When the SNP met for its annual conference 12 months ago, members were in buoyant mood.

The party was ahead in the polls and looking forward to possible victory in the historic May election.

On Wednesday - the first day of the 1999 SNP conference - the mood was reported to be different, with the internal sceptics out in force.

Lothians regional MSP Margo Macdonald was on hand to offer her own firebrand analysis of the way forward for the party.

[ image: Margo Macdonald;
Margo Macdonald; "Forget modernisation"
A veteran of Scottish politics, she has increasingly become a thorn in the side of SNP leader Alex Salmond.

She showed a united front was of no concern to her when she told BBC Radio 4 that some in the party had "lost the plot".

Without naming names, Ms Macdonald said: "I am absolutely certain that some nationalists have lost the plot, not all of them I am glad to say."

She attacked a move by party leaders towards modernisation and the "Blairite" method of politics which has championed one-member-one-vote and the "on-message" way of maintaining discipline.

Ms Macdonald believes the party should not be focusing on such wishy-washy notions but getting back to basics - and the issue of an independent Scotland.

[ image: Nicola Sturgeon:
Nicola Sturgeon: "Government is possible"
She said: "After the conference ends there will probably be some refocusing on the strategic objectives of the SNP.

"There have always been some in the SNP who believe you can soften the argument for independence - I have always thought them to be wrong.

"And I am now absolutely convinced that they are wrong."

She was scathing of reports that the party will enter wholeheartedly into an era of modernisation and greater party discipline.

And Ms Macdonald was sure about what she would do if someone like Labour's chief spin doctor Alastair Campbell attempted to gag her.

"For me if I were in new Labour and Alastair Campbell attempted to shut me up I would probably deck him," she said.

Whether Mr Salmond heard Ms Macdonald's words before he held a pre-conference press conference is uncertain.

[ image: Alex Salmond: Renews policy on independence]
Alex Salmond: Renews policy on independence
But the theme of his speech was about the importance of delivering independence to Scotland.

He said the party has settled the issue of independence and has pledged that it will be delivered when the SNP wins an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament at the next election in 2003.

But the SNP's internal problems are set to continue as it attempts to juggle making headway as a formidable force in the new Scottish Parliament and working towards the ultimate aim of winning independence for the country.

Rising SNP star, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, says it is vital that the party builds on its success as the second biggest party in the Scottish Parliament.

"We are now in an excellent position, we are the official opposition, which is something many of us a few years ago probably thought we could not have achieved.

"What we have to convince people of now is that we can make that transition from opposition to government," said Ms Sturgeon.

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