Page last updated at 12:31 GMT, Tuesday, 14 August 2007 13:31 UK

SNP outlines independence plans

Alex Salmond said no change was no longer an option
Alex Salmond said no change was no longer an option

Scotland's SNP government has set out its plans for a referendum on independence, despite opposition from the other main political parties.

Launching a "national conversation", First Minister Alex Salmond said no change was no longer an option.

The SNP leader said the white paper set out the full range of options which would be debated.

But Labour and the Tories said the document was purely about independence, however it was "dressed up".

The Liberal Democrats said the white paper should be withdrawn, although they welcomed it as the first sign that the Nationalists were prepared to settle for something other than taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom.

The three opposition parties have united to oppose independence, leaving little chance of the minority government's plans for a referendum receiving parliamentary approval.

Although the wide-ranging, 40-page white paper set out the case for a ballot, Mr Salmond said he was "open-minded" on alternative opinions.

Taxes and spending

He said it was the "settled will" of the Scottish people for their parliament to grow in "influence and authority".

"We in the government believe that independence would be the best for our country," Mr Salmond told a press conference in Edinburgh.

"Others support increased devolution, or greater responsibility for taxes and spending, or federalism.

"But whatever the differences between the political parties, the message of the election was obvious - the constitutional position of Scotland must move forward."

The white paper sets out what the SNP sees as the three main realistic choices for Scots.

These are:

  • The present devolved set-up;
  • Redesigning devolution by extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament in specific areas;
  • Or full independence.

The white paper also includes the draft wording of the ballot paper for a referendum.

This asks voters whether they agree or disagree "that the Scottish government should negotiate a settlement with the Government of a United Kingdom so that Scotland becomes an independent state".

However, Mr Salmond said he was relaxed about the possibility of a multi-option referendum, even though he admitted that "might not" be his preference.

'Not wanted'

He said: "The opportunity now presents itself for those who want another option in a referendum to define that option and present the case to the government for inclusion on the ballot paper".

However, Scottish Labour Deputy Leader Cathy Jamieson said the people of Scotland did not want independence.

She said: "No-one should be under any illusion. The white paper is about breaking up the UK, not making Scotland better.

"The SNP may suggest that this document considers a range of options but no matter how you look at it, it is fundamentally about independence."

The SNP obsession with independence is a road-block to consensus
Nicol Stephen
Scottish Lib Dem leader

Her comments were echoed by Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Conservative leader, who added: "However it is dressed up, and however many bells, whistles and frills are attached, at its core is the SNP's separatist agenda.

"If Alex Salmond wants a conversation about devolution, then he can join ours. We don't need a white paper to have a chat."

"It is time to defeat this draft independence bill and move on to deal with bread and butter issues which really matter and how we can all make devolution work better."

Distinctive views

Scottish Lib Dem leader Nicol Stephen said the white paper was good news, claiming the SNP was moving in their preferred direction of winning more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

"The SNP obsession with independence is a road-block to consensus," said Scotland's former deputy first minister.

"The white paper is a waste of taxpayers' money. It should be withdrawn. That would allow progress to be made on the campaign to gain more powers."

The pro-independence Scottish Greens said all the parties owed it to the public to take part in genuine dialogue about Scotland's constitutional future.

Patrick Harvie, one of the party's two MSPs, said: "Each of Scotland's parties represents a distinctive view on the constitutional settlement, and each of those opinions must be properly represented."

What is the cost of conversation?
14 Aug 07 |  Scotland
Your views on a Scottish independence ballot
14 Aug 07 |  Have Your Say
Parties oppose independence paper
13 Aug 07 |  Scotland
Independence statement in full
13 Aug 07 |  Scotland
Blog: Blether with Brian
13 Aug 07 |  Scotland


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