Page last updated at 14:50 GMT, Sunday, 1 November 2009

No Lib Dem backing for referendum

Tavish Scott
Tavish Scott said the SNP's proposed vote was a waste of money

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott has ruled out supporting a referendum on Scottish independence before the next Holyrood elections.

But Mr Scott said it was "not in my gift" to say if the party might change its stance in a future parliament.

He was speaking a day after Lib Dem activists backed his opposition to the SNP's planned referendum bill.

He described the proposed wording of the questions as a "trick". The SNP accused him of denying voters a voice.

The minority SNP government is due to publish its White Paper on an independence vote on St Andrew's Day, but would need the support of other parties to get its bill passed at Holyrood.

It is outrageous that the SNP will continue with a bill in our parliament, costing taxpayers' money which has no support and will cost, cost, cost
Tavish Scott
Liberal Democrat leader

Tavish Scott has consistently opposed a referendum, but some divisions within the party have emerged and the issue was debated in a closed session at the party's autumn conference in Dunfermline, Fife, on Saturday.

Senior Lib Dem MSP Ross Finnie, who has been asked to lead a consultation with members about the party's stance, said the session had agreed a united position.

He said: "What was very clear - and maybe a little surprising - was that the conference was having no truck with the SNP's referendum bill. That couldn't have been clearer and therefore there is no change, and there is no wish for a change to the position the leader has been taking.

"There is however an issue about going forward beyond 2011, as to whether looking at the constitutional questions, there are issues around how you might frame, how you might produce a different question and different type of referendum."

'Trick' question

Tavish Scott told BBC One's The Politics Show the proposed referendum vote was a waste of money.

"They will have no truck with the SNP's trick referendum question. It is outrageous that the SNP will continue with a bill in our parliament, costing taxpayers' money which has no support and will cost, cost, cost at a time of Labour's recession."

Asked if there was a chance the party would support a referendum in the next parliament, he said: "My party will decide what will be in our manifesto for an election that is two years away and at that time will consider those sorts of issues. It is not in my gift to answer that question and to lord it over my party."

Voter choice

The SNP responded to the Lib Dem decision by calling on all parties to back the right of the Scottish people to have their say on Scotland's future.

SNP MSP Alasdair Allan said: "The Liberal Democrats are deeply divided on the issue and all over the place - it's impossible to tell what their position will be from one day to the next, never mind one year to the next.

"Any party that refuses the right of the people to have their say over Scotland's future will pay a heavy price at the ballot box."

For Labour, Pauline McNeill called on the Scottish government to focus on jobs and the economy.

Scottish Conservative leader Annable Goldie said it was time for the SNP to abandon the referendum plan.

She said: "It is becoming increasingly clear that the SNP cannot win a majority for a referendum on independence.

"This issue is an unnecessary distraction when everyone in the Scottish Parliament should be working together to protect jobs and get Scotland through the recession."

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