Page last updated at 14:22 GMT, Monday, 5 May 2008 15:22 UK

Labour 'not afraid' of referendum

Douglas Alexander and Gordon Brown
Douglas Alexander is one of Gordon Brown's closest allies

One of the prime minister's closest allies has said he is not afraid of a referendum on Scottish independence.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander gave public backing on the issue to his sister Wendy, leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

She has accused the SNP of running scared by not producing a referendum bill on independence until 2010.

Mr Alexander said he was convinced people in Scotland would decide to stay part of the UK.

He told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "I have never feared an independence referendum because I'm in the mainstream of Scottish public opinion in wanting Scotland to stand tall but not to walk out of the UK."

It shows that the movement of opinion is running strongly in our favour as Labour crack under the pressure of popular opinion in favour of a referendum
Nicola Sturgeon
SNP deputy leader

He played down claims of a U-turn by Ms Alexander, saying: "She's long believed in the case for a referendum in terms of fundamental constitutional change."

As recently as March, the Scottish Labour leader stated her opposition to an independence referendum when she was questioned in a BBC Scotland news website webcast.

On BBC Scotland's Politics Show on Sunday, Ms Alexander seemed to have softened her stance, saying she had not ruled out a referendum.

She said: "I don't fear the verdict of the Scottish people. Bring it on."

Organised timetable

Sir Kenneth Calman is chairing a commission set up by Labour and other pro-Union parties to examine the future of devolution in Scotland.

He has not ruled out its recommendations going to a referendum, but said this would be a matter for the Scottish Parliament.

SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon said: "We are delighted that Labour's disarray has forced Ms Alexander into a massive U-turn.

"It shows that the movement of opinion is running strongly in our favour as Labour crack under the pressure of popular opinion in favour of a referendum."

She also defended the SNP's planned timescale for a referendum

"This is a timetable that was set out in our manifesto on which we fought and won the election and we will continue proceeding on that organised timetable as opposed to the chaotic U-turns of Labour," said Ms Sturgeon.

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