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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 October 2007, 17:36 GMT
Call over independence referendum
Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond addressed delegates in Aviemore

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has urged his Unionist rivals to find a way to back an independence referendum.

The SNP leader's comments came as he addressed the party's first conference since winning power in May.

He also announced an end-to-end motorway upgrade between Edinburgh and Glasgow and plans to cut quangos.

Mr Salmond told delegates at the Aviemore gathering that it was not acceptable that the M8 remained part motorway, part dual carriageway.

It is understood that the current dualled section - Baillieston to Newhouse - will be upgraded to motorway and there will be associated upgrades at Raith.

Mr Salmond, who was given a rousing welcome from the hundreds gathered to hear him, said he would not shirk from making his minority government the best it could be within a devolved UK.

But the Nationalist politician said that every passing day as first minister made him more certain of the need of independence, as he announced that doing so would lift Scotland from 10th to 3rd in the European league of prosperity.

We are not simply trying to build a proud nation, but rather build a nation of which we can be proud,
Alex Salmond
First Minister

The SNP currently does not have enough parliamentary support to pass a bill on an independence referendum, planned for 2010, but a multi-option ballot would contain a question on more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Salmond told delegates: "If the Unionist parties can agree a scheme, then let them come forward and have it tested against independence and be judged by the people.

"If not, then do not let them try to prevent the people from having their say. Because it is the same people who will decide the next government of Scotland."

He said the planned M8 upgrade was good news for business, adding: "In our view, that is not acceptable in 21st century Scotland and I can therefore tell conference there will finally be a complete, end-to-end motorway between our two great cities."

Mr Salmond also announced his intention to cut, by a quarter, Scotland's quangos and government agencies from the current level of 199, in the drive for more efficiency.

'Winning the argument'

He spoke of "restrictions" placed on the administration from the UK Treasury in light of the spending review announcement, but vowed to make it work.

"We are not simply trying to build a proud nation, but rather build a nation of which we can be proud," said Mr Salmond, before then outlining a list of announcements made by his ministers since coming to power.

The first minister said the case for independence had to be taken to the Scottish people and the argument won on its merits.

He said: "Winning the argument for independence and delivering good government for Scotland are two sides of the same coin.

"The better we govern, the stronger the case."

Mr Salmond went on: "The challenge to this government and to this party to embody the Scottish national interest - to stand up for Scotland and inspire a generation.

"This party and this government intends to do precisely that."

On his political rivals, the first minister said that while the Scottish Tories seemed anxious to come to terms with the "new politics" of minority government, he criticised Westminster Labour for the Scottish election fiasco.

And he asked whether the real crisis within the Liberal Democrats was the departure of UK leader Menzies Campbell or the continuation of Scottish leader Nicol Stephen, Scotland's former deputy first minister, in the role.

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