Page last updated at 11:03 GMT, Thursday, 3 September 2009 12:03 UK

SNP outlines plans for referendum

Salmond: 'Let the people speak'

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has announced an independence referendum bill as the centrepiece of the SNP's plans for the coming year.

The Scottish Government wants to stage the independence referendum in 2010.

However, the minority administration's plan faces being rejected because of a lack of parliamentary support.

Mr Salmond revealed details of a total of 13 bills, including minimum alcohol pricing, marking the start of the SNP's third legislative session.

The first minister told MSPs there was a "consensus for change" on Scotland's constitutional status.

He said: "I want Scotland to have the same responsibilities and opportunities as similar nations.

"Until we can use all the economic and financial levers available to every other government in the world, Scotland will always be at a competitive disadvantage."

brian taylor
Brian Taylor
BBC Scotland Political editor
Mr Salmond acknowledged that he serves in, as he put it, a parliament of minorities. He knows he cannot push through his bill for a referendum on independence next year without support from other parties.

He knows that support is not presently forthcoming. Labour, for example, has staggered through its "bring it on" phase - and now rejects a referendum on the professed grounds that it is an unwarranted distraction during economic crisis. Tories and LibDems ditto.

So why the smile? Because Mr Salmond calculates that, setting aside views on independence per se, the intrinsic notion of a plebiscite tends to be rather popular with the people due to be consulted.

He calculates, further, that those same people will tend to resent or, at least, question those who would seek to frustrate an exercise in popular democracy.

Mr Salmond said he had been "very proud" to lead the Scottish Government but warned a "glass ceiling" threatened to stall the country's progress.

"This government was elected with a popular mandate to put the question of Scotland's future to the vote in a referendum," he said.

"It is time for the people of Scotland to have their say. Not everyone will agree with our vision for the future, we know that.

"But the people of Scotland must be heard. This parliament should not stand in their way - let the people speak."

The Scottish Government has said it could be a multi-option referendum - and this could include the tax changes proposed by the Calman Commission on devolution.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said the SNP's priorities should be the economy and crime.

Mr Gray said: "This year's flagship, the referendum bill, was preannounced last year. It starts with even less support than the late unlamented council tax bill of last year.

"With its rigged question to suit the SNP, its rigged timetable to suit the SNP and its misplaced prioritisation to suit the SNP, it is a flagship begging to be scuttled."

Scottish Tory leader Annabel Goldie said Mr Salmond had chosen "posturing" over confronting the challenges facing Scotland.

She said he was a "lone voice representing a minority view".

Alcohol problem

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott said he would support the government when it concentrated on people's jobs and on the recession.

He said: "We will not support the government when the SNP's internal party politics are more important than the country.

"The referendum is about the SNP. The recession and jobs is about Scotland. We will put Scotland before the SNP."

Other bills put before the parliament include a minimum pricing strategy aimed at stopping high-strength alcohol being sold for "pocket money prices", without affecting premium products like Scotch whisky.

That plan has run into opposition, but ministers said tough action must be taken to cut the cost of Scotland's alcohol problem, which they estimate costs the country £2.25bn per year.

There will also be a bill for a replacement of the Forth crossing, building a new bridge to the west of the current road crossing.

A housing bill would end the right-to-buy for all new-supply social housing and there will be a bill to give patients greater rights on waiting times in the NHS.

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