SCOTLAND needs independence to guarantee the future of the country’s distinctive policies like free personal care, Alex Salmond was expected to tell the SNP conference today.
The First Minister will argue that a Yes vote in the referendum is vital in order to secure and build on the achievements of the Scottish Parliament under devolution.
He will seize on Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont’s recent speech, in which she warned Scotland could not be a “something for nothing country” and announced a review of free public services from tuition fees to prescriptions.
Mr Salmond is expected to contrast the opportunities of an independent Scotland with the “austerity agenda” of Westminster and warn a No vote would risk rolling back the gains made by devolution since 1999.
He is due to tell delegates in Perth: “Our cause is not and never has been just about a constitutional objective. It is about using the powers of an independent Scotland to create a more prosperous economy and a more just society.”
Mr Salmond’s speech comes as a new poll commissioned by the anti-independence campaign Better Together put support for independence at 31 per cent compared with 56 per cent support for staying in the UK.
The Better Together campaign said the poll, conducted in the days after the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement paving the way for a referendum, showed a “deep lack of confidence” in the proposition of breaking up the UK.
But an SNP spokesman said support for a Yes vote had increased by three per cent in two weeks. The SNP leadership today declared themselves “pleased” with the outcome of yesterday’s close vote in favour of changing the party’s stance on Nato. The conference voted 394 to 365 in favour of saying that an independent Scotland should be a member of Nato on condition that Trident nuclear submarines were removed from Scotland.
The vote followed a passionate two-hour debate which saw rousing speeches on all sides of the argument. Defence spokesman Angus Robertson was booed when he said the party could not disregard survey findings that 75 per cent of people thought an independent Scotland should be in Nato. But he assured delegates: “If we do not have agreement on the withdrawal of Trident we will not be in Nato.”
Justice Secretary and Edinburgh Eastern MSP Kenny MacAskill also backed the change. He told the conference: “I spoke against Nato in 1987, but Nato has changed. Countries who were in the Warsaw Pact are now our friends.”