Scottish independence plans published

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond published details today of a planned referendum on Scottish independence, setting out the case for breaking the 300-year-old union with England.

Polls consistently show that the people of Scotland want more powers from the Westminster parliament in London.

Mr Salmond, who heads the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), said only independence would deliver a “21st century partnership of equals between Scotland and England”.

The White Paper, “Your Scotland, Your Voice”, paves the way for a Referendum Bill early next year with a vote in about 12 months. “The debate in Scottish politics is no longer between change or no change,” Mr Salmond said in a statement.

“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.”

But Scottish independence is virulently opposed by the English political establishment, with the main political parties in Britain insisting that the devolved Scottish parliament should concentrate on economic matters.

Mr Salmond has included other options in the White Paper, which range from keeping the status quo to full devolution while remaining part of the “United Kingdom”, in an attempt to persuade rival parties to support a referendum.

He said he was flexible over the provisions and wording of a referendum, the only stipulation being that a vote of independence had to be included.

Scotland, which has had devolved government for the past 10 years, needed more powers to tackle the recession and manage the recovery he said. Independence would give Scotland a voice in Europe and the ability to remove hated nuclear weapons from its soil, he added.

If the bill failed, Mr Salmond said the fight for independence would become a key issue in the next Scottish elections in 2011.

However, if the bill went through and the Scottish public voted against independence, he would accept that verdict, adding “a referendum is a once in a political generation event”.

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