Page last updated at 14:09 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 15:09 UK

Salmond in election rallying call

Alex Salmond
The SNP aims to hold a balance of power at Westminster

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond issued a General Election rallying call as he opened the 75th annual SNP conference in Inverness.

The SNP leader set out his goal to return at least 20 MPs at the next election, with the aim of holding a balance of power at Westminster.

And he told members of the party faithful the goal of independence had never been closer.

The Holyrood government still lacks enough support to hold a referendum.

But in a challenge to his Scottish political opponents, Mr Salmond asked: "Do parties in Scotland really believe that the people of Scotland will give them their votes if they refuse to give the people of Scotland a vote on the constitutional future of of the country?"

Hung parliament

Mr Salmond described the four-day conference as a "launchpad" for the SNP's campaign in the Westminster Glasgow North East by election campaign and the UK election which would follow it.

He said his preference was for a hung parliament, where a strong SNP presence could play a vital part in making important decision for Scotland.

"In that election our objective is clear," said the first minister, adding: "We're going to make Scotland's voice heard .

"We're going to seek a platform, a Scottish block of at least 20 Scottish National Party MPs.

"If we obtain that, then Scotland's voice will not only be heard but Scotland's demands will be answered."

There was little difference, Mr Salmond said, between the other Westminster parties, which he argued all wanted to cut public spending.

He went on: "The only disagreement between the Liberal, the Labour party and the Tories is how savage the cuts are going to be and the timescale on which the cuts are to be implemented."

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