Historic week

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ALEX Salmond’s speech to the SNP annual conference in 
 Perth this afternoon comes at the end of a historic week.

It began with the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement, the deal between Westminster and Holyrood that allows Scotland’s independence referendum to go ahead.

The agreement means we now know the vote will be held in autumn 2014, there will be only one Yes/No question with no fallback position on “more powers”, 16 and 17-year-olds will get a vote and the Scottish Parliament will have the final say on the wording of the question.

The polls may still show a clear majority against independence, but Mr Salmond and his party remain upbeat about their prospects of securing a Yes vote.

In his speech opening the conference, the First Minister reminded the faithful that in the past sceptics had dismissed the SNP’s chances of getting MPs elected, their ambition of a Scottish 
Parliament, their ability to become the government and the possibility of holding a referendum.

Independence, of course, is a whole other ball game.

In his speech today, Mr Salmond is taking full advantage of Labour’s controversial shift of policy on free provision of public services.

Johann Lamont’s announcement of a review of free tuition fees, free personal care, free prescriptions and the rest has allowed the SNP to claim the achievements of devolution are at risk and offer independence as an 
avenue to secure them.

Critics will argue that the affordability of these policies will not suddenly increase if Scotland goes it alone. But the argument underlines the need for both sides to say more about exactly what their favoured options will mean.

Voters are entitled to have a much clearer idea of what they could expect an independent Scotland to look like and also whether a No vote means the status quo or significant new powers.

There are two years to go until the vote – plenty of time for the politicians to give us a proper picture of what they want us to vote for.