Politics: SNP sets defiant tone on defence

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The Independent Online
Continued basing of Trident submarines in Scottish waters could provide an early confrontation between an Edinburgh parliament and Westminster. Stephen Goodwin reports from the Scottish National Party's annual conference in Rothesay where the road to independence is being mapped out. Though Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, is still talking the language of cross-party co-operation in the run-up to a Scottish Parliament, the nationalists are already preparing for "set-piece" challenges to the Labour government.

Mr Salmond, in an address celebrating the success of the home rule referendum, said Scotland had broken through the "psychological barrier" of fear over running its own affairs. "Self-confidence has triumphed over self-doubt."

Acknowledging the majority of Scots do not yet share the SNP's goal of independence, he told the 500 delegates the party must not run before the public could walk. "We must march in step with our nation, shining a light on the good governance that we can provide."

But though Mr Salmond keeps repeating that he wants the devolved parliament to be a success, with parties co-operating on a range of issues, one of his leadership colleagues was simultaneously predicting twice-yearly confrontations with Tony Blair's government.

George Reid, the party's constitutional affairs spokesman and a former MP, suggested the party would press for a consultative referendum in Scotland on getting rid of nuclear weapons. Defence is one of the areas of responsibility to remain under Westminster control under the devolution plans.

"It is an obscenity in my view, once the Cold War is over, to have the biggest stock pile of nuclear weapons in western Europe concentrated in Scottish waters. That is a legitimate matter for the Scottish people," Mr Reid said. He wondered how many Labour MSPs would share that view.

Mr Salmond none the less renewed his call to Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, and Jim Wallace, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats for formal consultation on procedures for and the site of the new parliament.

The SNP leader took no swipes at the Liberal Democrats, with whom he hopes to co-operate on introducing proportional representation for council elections, but dismissed the Tories as "irrelevant" and attacked "London Labour" as "Tories in designer labels".

"A Scottish parliament must and will cut its cloth according to its own fashion." Mr Salmond added, in the words of the Irish home ruler, Parnell: "No man has the right to set a boundary to the march of a nation."

2 Growing your own cannabis could become permissible in Scotland if a drugs policy adopted by the SNP yesterday is carried through. The strategy includes a review of drugs legislation and the possibility of a more liberal approach to the use of cannabis for medical purposes and cultivation for personal use.

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