Page last updated at 15:51 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 16:51 UK

Lib Dems mount referendum review

Tavish Scott
Tavish Scott has previously denied a change in position

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have ordered a review of their position on an independence referendum.

The party, which is currently opposed to the move, will debate the issue behind closed doors during a one-day conference on 30 October.

The move came after leader Tavish Scott previously said there would be no change in the Lib Dems' position.

The minority Scottish government needs opposition backing to stage the referendum in 2010.

Although the Liberal Democrats are opposed to independence, some members believe the party should support a referendum, giving the public the right to decide on Scotland's future, rather than simply voting down the Referendum Bill at Holyrood.

Brian Taylor
Brian Taylor
Political editor

Do I think the Lib Dems will back a referendum now?

No, they will back Mr Scott. I feel sure that outcome will be relayed to us from the private meeting.

Do I think there will eventually be a referendum? Yes.


Senior Lib Dem Ross Finnie will carry out the review, before the subject is discussed at the party's autumn conference in Dunfermline.

A party spokeswoman said: "Tavish always wants to hear what party members on the ground have to say.

"We think this is the best forum to start marshalling the arguments against independence and to let everyone have their say."

Last month, Mr Scott dismissed a possible change in position at the UK party conference in Bournemouth after Kevin Lang, who is contesting the Edinburgh North and Leith seat at the next election, said the party should back a referendum.

The Scottish Lib Dem leader has also played down talk of support for a multi-option referendum, which would contain a question on more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Liberal Democrat MSP John Farquhar Munro has openly backed an independence referendum, as has the party's only Scottish MEP, George Lyon.

'Shifting sands'

With Lib Dem support as well as the votes of the pro-independence Green MSPs and independent MSP Margo MacDonald, a former Nationalist politician, the SNP would gain the majority it needed to pass the Referendum Bill.

Delegates to the Dunfermline conference have been told by organisers: "The session will give members the opportunity to consider the issues and arguments around the SNP's current proposals for an independence referendum.

"This work is in support of a wider consultation of members' views being co-ordinated by Ross Finnie MSP at the request of Tavish Scott."

A spokesman for Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond described the move as "extremely welcome", adding: "The Liberal Democrats' UK conference took place in a seaside resort and it's very clear that their position on a referendum is built on shifting sands.

"This indication of another possible change in the Lib Dem policy towards supporting a referendum is extremely welcome."



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