ALEX Salmond was today set to give the clearest signal yet that his independence referendum will offer another option – full financial powers for Scotland within the United Kingdom.
In his keynote speech to the SNP conference in Inverness this afternoon, he was due to tell delegates that “devo max” – where Scotland would set all its own taxes and send an agreed amount to Westminster for shared services – was a “legitimate proposal” and reiterate his willingness to include it on the referendum ballot paper.
And the First Minister was expected to spell out why independence would be better than devo max, arguing it would not remove Trident from Scottish waters, save Scottish soldiers from being sent to fight illegal wars or give Scotland automatic representation in Europe.
SNP insiders said the speech was moving the debate on Scotland’s future to a new stage, pitching the case for independence against the argument for more powers rather than just against the status quo.
Earlier this week, Edinburgh North and Leith Labour MP Mark Lazarowicz broke ranks and declared his support for devo max, rather than the extra powers proposed in the Scotland Bill now going through both Holyrood and Westminster. Insiders say his views are shared by other Labour figures. And the SNP sees his comments as significant.
Mr Salmond was due to say: “Fiscal responsibility, financial freedom, real economic powers is a legitimate proposal – all good, all necessary, but not good enough. Trident nuclear missiles would still be on the River Clyde, we could still be forced to spill blood in illegal wars, such as Iraq, and we would still be excluded from the councils of Europe and the world.”
At a fringe meeting, former party treasurer Ian Blackford said the SNP should be putting “an unambiguous proposition for independence”.
Speaking at the same meeting, Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader and campaign director, claimed Scots wanted to be persuaded of the case for independence.
He appeared to hint at 2014 as the date for the referendum when saying “We have three years” before quickly adding “or four”. He said: “Scotland is listening. I think the public in Scotland wants to be persuaded. This is something that will change your life and the way we feel as a nation.”