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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 October 2006, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
Sturgeon in rallying call to SNP
Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon said there would be an independence referendum
The SNP conference has heard a rallying call from the party's deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon.

She told activists that they now had their best chance ever to realise their dream of independence.

In her closing speech, Ms Sturgeon said there was a growing mood for change across the nation.

She said it was up to rank and file members to persuade the rest of Scotland that the Nationalists could deliver that change.

Ms Sturgeon said that at the ballot box next May, they could realise the dream of generations of nationalists, to win government.

The SNP has long been committed to scrapping the council tax and replacing it with a local income tax, and Ms Sturgeon told the conference that under this reform, more than half a million pensioners would pay nothing and most other people would pay less.

It is not for the Liberals to decide the future of Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon
SNP Deputy Leader

She said: "We will give councils the funding to cut local tax across the board.

"And we will guarantee that the benefit is passed direct to taxpayers by putting a ceiling on the level of local income tax.

"Be in no doubt - our government will deliver fairness for local taxpayers and we will put a stop to the local tax hikes that Scotland has suffered for far too long under Labour."

Her conference speech contained a strong attack on First Minister Jack McConnell, and a joke at the expense of leader Alex Salmond.

'Right for Scotland'

She told delegates that polling found Mr Salmond was rated as stronger, more likeable, more in touch, and more honest than Mr McConnell, with better ideas as well.

But the first minister beat Mr Salmond on one count, she said. "It seems the Scottish people think Jack McConnell is more conceited than Alex Salmond.

"And let's be frank - that takes some doing," she added.

Her speech went on to attack Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and to set the SNP the task of demonstrating it had policies that could make "a real difference" to people's lives.

She said: "The manifesto we present to the country next year will be right for Scotland and the challenges we face.

Coalition government

"It will be ambitious but realistic.

"We can't promise what we can't deliver.

"Money spent on one priority can't be spent on another."

Ms Sturgeon also rounded on Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Nicol Stephen, saying it was "absurd" of him to say he would not go into coalition with the SNP unless the Nationalists dumped their commitment to an independence referendum.

She said: "When we win the election, there will be an independence referendum.

"It is not for the Liberals to decide the future of Scotland.

"It is for the people of Scotland to decide the future of our country - and that is what will happen."

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