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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 October 2007, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
A song with harmony in SNP debate
By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

It was going to happen sooner or later - a debate at the Scottish National Party annual conference about the party's central aim of independence.

delegate reads independence headline
Delegates debated the independence question

Yet, it was an interesting interpretation of the word "debate".

It would probably be naive to think that any Nationalist worth their salt (or who wants a continuing role in the party) would have spoken against the subject being discussed in Aviemore - the SNP government's "national conversation" white paper on Scotland's constitutional future.

The issue of how the present minority Holyrood administration will be able to pass the planned Bill to hold an independence referendum received a passing reference.

During the debate, conference delegates spoke of Scotland "underachieving" in the Union and that a new dawn had broken since the Nationalists' historic election victory in May and that more and more Scots were backing the concept of independence.

They heard from Enterprise Minister Jim Mather, who proclaimed that the "celtic lion had awoken".

'Don't know the answer'

Robert Crawford, a former chief executive of the economic development agency Scottish Enterprise, said a succession of CEOs - both at Scottish Enterprise and its predecessor body - had made clear their support for independence, regardless of their position before coming to the job.

"When they were in the job, they knew with complete and unerring certainty that on the economy, we were playing five-a-side football against an 11-a-side on a full international pitch," he said.

There is still an issue, though. The only other pro-independence party at Holyrood is the Greens - and they only have two MSPs - meaning the majority needed to pass a referendum bill is not there, at present anyway.

This was touched upon by one speaker during the debate but he managed a sort of get-out clause when he told delegates: "I don't know the answer to that question. That's why I am a councillor and Alex Salmond is first minister."

However, the SNP is aiming to hold a referendum by 2010. Who knows what might happen between now and then?

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