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Saturday, September 25, 1999 Published at 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK

UK: Scotland

SNP veteran appeals for loyalty

Winnie Ewing delivered the final conference speech

At the end of an SNP conference dominated at times by internal divisions, veteran politician Winnie Ewing demanded loyalty from the party's rank and file.

The SNP president delivered a forthright message to the old guard unhappy with the "modernisation" message from party leaders.

And in what is believed to be a tacit message about financial support, she insisted members "must be involved at all times".

[ image: Mrs Ewing defended Alex Salmond]
Mrs Ewing defended Alex Salmond
SNP coffers are thought to be in the red by £500,000 following May's hard-fought Scottish election.

Pressure on funds is likely to be even greater following the Hamilton South by-election in which Mrs Ewing's daughter Annabelle failed to win by just 556 votes.

Mrs Ewing's unifying speech was peppered with words of reassurance.

She said: "As your President I want you the party to know that you are the most important element.

"You, the members of our party must be involved at all times. You hold Scotland's destiny in your hands.

Mrs Ewing added: "In addition to loyalty to our country, I urge loyalty to the parliament, as so many destructive media articles have given it a bad press.

"For the benefit of our friends in the media, I would like to repeat Alex Salmond's words. If the executive deserve criticism, blame the executive, not Scotland's Parliament."

[ image: Annabelle Ewing: Daughter of Winnie Ewing]
Annabelle Ewing: Daughter of Winnie Ewing
Mrs Ewing made a further assault on the media when she said she was "impatient with attempts to split us all into fundamentalists and devolutionists".

The SNP stateswoman also made a plea for members to speak out against all forms of bigotry, racism and discrimination.

That message was plainly spelled out in her opening line: "My dear fellow country men and women, wherever born."

Mrs Ewing spoke about the privilege she had of presiding over the first day of the new Scottish Parliament.

The BBC's Norman Smith: " The party faithful are heading home in upbeat mood"
She also placed on record her pride in daughter Annabelle who stood, and failed narrowly, to win the Hamilton South by-election.

The speech did not pass without criticisms of other parties. She called UK Prime Minister and Labour leader Tony Blair arrogant for dismissing his candidate's poor showing in the Hamilton South by-election on the low voter turnout.

And Mrs Ewing said she was saddened that the Liberal Democrats had broken their promises on tuition fees, sky tolls, beef-on-the-bone ban.

BBC Scotland's Poltical Editor Brian Taylor reports on the last day of the SNP conference
The last day of the conference also saw the SNP's John Swinney attack the Labour government's tax policies.

He said: "This government is cutting income tax and then putting up indirect tax on fuel, bringing tuition fees and introducing hospital charges.

"What we want to do is make these issues the centre stage of politics in Scotland and having a fair and honest debate about taxation."

Unlike other conference speeches, Mrs Ewing mentioned devolution just a couple of times, once during remarks about the Scottish Parliament.

She said: "This parliament is a parliament to build our dreams on. Making it work does not weaken our commitment to independence - quite the reverse."

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