Page last updated at 13:23 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Lib Dems say 'shelve' referendum

Tavish Scott

Plans for a Scottish independence referendum should be shelved amid the economic crisis, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have said.

It is thought the call will win the backing of Labour and the Tories when the issue is debated at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday.

The Lib Dems said they were not against a referendum in principle.

But party leader Tavish Scott said he was against spending time on the issue, rather than tackling the recession.

The SNP branded the Liberal Democrat position laughable, claiming members of the party wanted a referendum.

Tavish and the Lib Dem leadership must be worried that their party wants a referendum
Brian Adam
SNP chief whip

Ministers will bring forward draft legislation in 2010 to hold the referendum.

Depending on the wording of an amendment, attached to a Labour-led debate on "Scottish Government failures", it is thought likely Mr Scott's call will be supported by opposition parties at the 1700 GMT vote.

The minority Scottish Government does not have enough parliamentary support to pass its proposed Referendum Bill, but has challenged Labour, the Lib Dems and the Tories not to oppose what it sees as the public's right to decide on Scotland's future.

Lib Dem chief whip Mike Rumbles said: "Our amendment will put an end to speculation about independence in this parliament.

"MSPs can choose chatter about the constitution, or they can follow the Liberal Democrats and spend the next two years working hard to build an economic recovery."

'Follow the leader'

Scottish Constitution Minister Mike Russell challenged his political rivals at the weekend to allow MSPs a free vote on the Referendum Bill.

His comments came on the back of a call by Liberal Democrat Holyrood veteran John Farquhar Munro for a referendum.

SNP chief whip Brian Adam said: "Mike Rumbles said he wanted the party to decide their policy - a party in which we know many members favour a referendum, as do the vast majority of Lib Dem voters - yet in parliament he follows his leader and drops his principles at the door.

"Tavish and the Lib Dem leadership must be worried that their party wants a referendum, because - unlike him - they actually want to be 'very democratic'."

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