Page last updated at 16:16 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 17:16 UK

Lib Dems warned over ballot talk

Man putting vote in ballot box
The SNP needs opposition support for a referendum bill

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have warned MSPs about speaking to the media on the issue of a referendum on Scottish independence.

A leaked memo from Lib Dem chief whip Mike Rumbles warned MSPs to speak to him before discussing the independence referendum with journalists.

The party policy is to vote against the SNP's proposed referendum legislation.

But there has been growing speculation that several senior politicians have been calling for a rethink.

Mr Rumbles' warning was sent after the BBC spoke to three Liberal Democrat MSPs, who added their support for a change of policy on the referendum.

The minority Scottish government of the SNP needs to gain opposition support in parliament to stage its independence referendum in 2010.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott and UK party leader Nick Clegg have already rejected calls for an early referendum from two of the party's prospective parliamentary candidates.

Writing to MSPs on Tuesday, Mr Rumbles stated: "Would all colleagues please refrain from commenting to the media until you have spoken either to me or to the press office first."

Brian Taylor
Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland political editor

There is, as I recall, a rather deft little ditty entitled: "Blame it on the bossa nova." It even featured in an episode of the West Wing.

Tavish Scott, it appears, is inclined to look elsewhere for his causal link of choice. On BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme this morning, he blamed it on the pina colada at his party's Bournemouth conference.

The import of his wireless words was that one or two excitable delegates had been so fired up by a lethal combination of sea air and Latin liquor that their thoughts instantly turned to... the prospect of a referendum on Scottish independence, no doubt conducted via the single transferable vote.

The memo continued: "I shouldn't need to remind everyone that our parliamentary party policy is of course that we will vote against the SNP's proposed legislation."

Mr Rumbles later told the BBC Scotland news website: "I am more than happy for MSPs to talk to journalists. I was asking them to speak to me or the press office first, so they are up-to-date.

"I am happy for MSPs to talk about this issue.

"All 15 MSPs unanimously voted against the referendum proposals by the SNP government.

"They have all voted in a particular way and I don't see why they would take a different view. I am not aware of any MSP who has changed their mind over this issue."

Earlier, Mr Scott insisted his party was not about to perform a U-turn over a Scottish independence referendum, as the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth continued.

He told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "Inevitably during a conference the heady sea air, and possibly one or two pina coladas, get a little too much for one or two colleagues.

"The serious point here is that the Liberal Democrats are absolutely united in opposing independence. That's been the absolutely key discussion behind the scenes among all of us."

He said there was inevitably a bit of "conference chatter" about the best way to tackle different issues, but added: "There is going to be no change in the position."

Mr Scott's denial came after the Scotsman newspaper reported senior figures in the party now believed supporting an early referendum was the best chance of maintaining the union.

A party source was quoted as saying: "There is serious consideration being given to it. The fact is, by 2011, the SNP could be governing with a majority.

"Labour, having lost the general election, will still be tearing itself apart and in no way to fight for the union."

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