Page last updated at 18:27 GMT, Monday, 30 November 2009

SNP sets out Scottish independence white paper

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Salmond outlines independence plans

The Scottish government has published its white paper on Scotland's constitutional future, paving the way for an independence referendum.

First Minister Alex Salmond said Scotland must be independent to meet its full economic potential.

He also outlined a series of other options, including substantial new powers for the Scottish Parliament.

The minority SNP administration does not have enough support from opposition parties to stage a referendum in 2010.

The white paper, launched on St Andrew's Day, sets out independence as its favoured option.

Three other possible scenarios for Scotland's future are contained in the white paper: no change in the present set-up; more powers, as recommended by the Calman Commission review of devolution; and a major transfer of responsibilities from Westminster to Holyrood, such as full financial autonomy.

brian taylor
Brian Taylor
BBC Scotland political editor
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott is resolutely opposed to a referendum in 2010, arguing it would be a costly waste of time in a recession.

Mr Salmond's tactical hope is that things could change after the next Holyrood elections in 2011.

What if, he imagines, the Lib Dems have posited "devo max" in their manifesto for those elections?

Could that form the basis for a coalition deal - or a compact to hold a plebiscite?

Speaking at its launch in Edinburgh, Mr Salmond said: "It's time for the people to have their say on Scotland's future.

"The debate in Scottish politics is no longer between change or no change - it's about the kind of change we seek and the right of the people to choose their future in a free and fair referendum."

The content of the referendum ballot paper will not be revealed until the Referendum Bill is published early next year.

Mr Salmond has expressed a preference for a single question on independence, but said he was willing to consider including another option on more powers for Holyrood.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray insisted his party did not fear a referendum, but called on the Scottish government to drop it and focus on more immediate concerns, such as the recession.

"We should not be distracting ourselves with a referendum, with a question which we don't even know what it is, with options we don't even know what they are," he said.

"It could cost anything up to £12m - that's public resources which could be put to far better use protecting and creating jobs here in Scotland and I think that's what Scots want us to be doing."

Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie, added: "This referendum bill is a complete waste of public resources on something that the people of Scotland clearly don't want.

"Alex Salmond should ditch this referendum bill, which the SNP say will cost £9m, and get on with the job he was elected to do."

READ THE WHITE PAPER

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The SNP, which has 47 MSPs, needs the support of the pro-independence Greens and 16 other members to gain a majority for the referendum in parliament.

But that seems increasingly unlikely, after Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott recently ruled out supporting a referendum before the next Holyrood elections.

"I think we should concentrate on the issues we are responsible for - of course make the arguments for strengthening our parliament and making it more accountable to our people," said Mr Scott.

"That's where we should be not on this obsession with independence that Mr Salmond and the rest of his party have."

The SNP's white paper came just days after the UK government proposed to hand more responsibility to Holyrood, following the Calman review.

The plans included the power to vary the rate of income tax by up to 10p in the pound and responsibility for drink drive and speed limits.

However, none of these would be implemented until after the next UK election.



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