Page last updated at 23:15 GMT, Saturday, 29 August 2009 00:15 UK

MSPs to debate independence bill

Saltire
An independence referendum was an SNP manifesto pledge

An independence referendum and minimum pricing for alcohol are among the bills to be introduced at the Scottish Parliament in the coming year.

The Scottish Government confirmed they would be among 13 bills brought forward in the SNP's third legislative session.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the people of Scotland had a democratic right to have their say on the issue of independence.

The programme will be debated by MSPs at Holyrood on Thursday.

A referendum on independence was a key SNP manifesto pledge before the 2007 Holyrood election.

A year later former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander challenged the SNP to "bring it on".

The SNP government have the confidence to put the question fair and square in a referendum, and we are equally confident that people will choose independence
Spokesman for Alex Salmond

The SNP has previously said it hoped to introduce a bill early in 2010, with a vote taking place later in the year.

Ms Sturgeon said she accepted opponents of independence were in the majority at Holyrood, but said she was optimistic the bill would be passed.

"What I think is not right for the other parties to do is to try to deny people in Scotland the right to make that decision," she told BBC Scotland.

"The Referendum Bill would give people in Scotland the right to decide. It is for the people in Scotland to decide that, not for any one political party. I think the other political parties are going to find it difficult to be roadblocks to democracy."

A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond said: "The government's Referendum Bill will place the issue of Scotland's future - and the powers we need to succeed as a nation - at the heart of political and public debate.

"The SNP government have the confidence to put the question fair and square in a referendum, and we are equally confident that people will choose independence and equality for Scotland."

He said Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's controversial decision to grant compassionate release to the Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi showed nationalist ministers were capable of making big decisions.

On the Alcohol Bill, the spokesman said it would stop "high strength beers and ciders being sold for pocket money prices" without affecting premium products like Scotch whisky.

"As with the smoking ban, Scotland can once again lead the way and we hope that parliament can once again come together," the spokesman added.

'Economic uncertainty'

Scottish Labour said an independence referendum would destabilise an already faltering economy.

Business Manager Michael McMahon said: "Next week's legislative programme is likely to be more notable for what it leaves out than what it includes.

"Labour has called for a much more vigorous response to the recession, tough action to bring in mandatory sentences on knife crime and better protection for vulnerable children.

"We also want to see a credible package of measures for dealing with Scotland's culture of alcohol abuse, but the Scottish Government has so-far failed to bring one forward. Instead, we are confronted with proposals for a referendum on independence that will cost Scotland jobs by creating more economic uncertainty."

The Tories claimed the Scottish Government was on course to meet fewer than a quarter of key targets, prompting Conservative leader Annabel Goldie to accuse the Nationalists of "failing Scotland".

Miss Goldie said: "At home and abroad Alex Salmond's government has been found wanting."

Liberal Democrat chief whip Mike Rumbles said: "This looks like another SNP legislative programme that isn't worthy of the Scottish Parliament.

"It is further proof of the failure of the SNP's minority government."



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SEE ALSO
Devolution backed by 41% of Scots
28 Jun 09 |  Scotland
Minimum pricing on alcohol urged
22 Jun 09 |  Scotland
SNP outlines independence plans
14 Aug 07 |  Scotland
'Bring on' referendum - Alexander
04 May 08 |  Scotland

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