Page last updated at 14:01 GMT, Sunday, 29 November 2009

SNP urged to drop Scotland referendum plan

The SNP has been accused of being obsessed with independence

Opposition parties have urged Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond to shelve his planned independence referendum.

The call came on the eve of the publication the SNP's white paper on Scotland's constitutional future, to be followed by a Referendum Bill.

The minority Scottish government currently does not have enough support to pass the referendum in parliament.

Mr Salmond said the bill would be introduced, adding the SNP was willing to work with others on the issue.

The SNP wants to see a referendum in 2010, but has still to finalise the wording on what it would ask, including a possible second question on more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

In these tough economic times, Scottish ministers should be focusing on the real issues that matter to the people of Scotland, like jobs, schools and hospitals
Tavish Scott
Scottish Lib Dem leader

The first minister told the BBC's Politics Show: "We have to get an independence bill through a Scottish Parliament where not everybody, as yet accepts our viewpoint.

"Therefore we have to show a willingness to engage with people, not just engage with other parliamentarians, but engage with the Scottish public as we outline the arguments for that substantial shift in power, increasing the powers of our parliament to make a real difference to real people."

Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy accused the SNP of a "peculiar obsession" with independence, adding: "In these difficult times they should behave like patriots, not just like nationalists, and put Scotland before their party."

Mr Murphy said he agreed with Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray who did not rule out a referendum "forever".

The Scottish secretary's appeal came in the wake of Westminster's rival White Paper setting out Labour's own proposals for Scotland.

Based on the recommendations of the Calman Commission, these would give Scotland more powers over setting income tax, as well as new powers in areas such as airgun control, national speed limits and drink-drink alcohol limits.

'Nationalist fervour'

Under the proposals, Westminster would cut the UK rate of income tax by 10p in Scotland and would also make a corresponding cut in the block grant.

This would require Holyrood to take decisions on income tax - imposing a Scottish rate of 10p if it wanted its budget to remain unchanged, or more if it wanted extra money.

Commenting on Mr Murphy's plea over the referendum, a spokesman for Mr Salmond said: "Jim Murphy proved with his flop of an announcement on Calman last week that Labour cannot be trusted to take Scotland forward.

Annabel Goldie
Tory Annabel Goldie said a referendum would cost 9m

"The reality is that Scotland needs full financial and economic powers in order to fight recession and maximise the opportunities that will come with recovery, which is exactly why we need to move forward in the referendum the government propose for next year."

But Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott claimed the publication of the White Paper would be "an SNP jamboree of flag waving and nationalist fervour".

He argued the SNP had got its priorities wrong, stating: "Just in the last few days we've seen teacher numbers plummet and major delays to the construction of a new hospital.

"In these tough economic times, Scottish ministers should be focusing on the real issues that matter to the people of Scotland, like jobs, schools and hospitals."

And Conservative leader Annabel Goldie said an independence referendum would cost £9m and many hundreds of hours of parliamentary time.

She added: "He [Alex Salmond] should ditch the independence bill and get on with what he was elected to do - helping Scotland through these tough times."

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