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Scottish Independence: Alex Salmond tells SNP conference 'Scotland can, should and must' end union

He also announced an all-party 'Team Scotland' group that would help negotiate the nation's future after a Yes vote

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond used his last speech to an SNP conference before the independence referendum in September to urge Scots to take the plunge and break the 307-year union with England.

Surrounded by images of Scotland’s flag and partially framed by the conference slogan “Forward” on the podium below him, Mr Salmond told members: Scotland “can, should and must” end its union with England.

During his address on Saturday, Mr Salmond said a vote for independence was not a vote for his party or for him, but a way to put Scotland's future in its own hands.

The 56-year-old, who has headed the party for 20 years, pledged to the 1,200-person strong crowd of SNP members that following a ‘Yes’ vote, a cross-party “Team Scotland” group would negotiate the terms of independence by 24 March 2016.

Discussions undertaken by the group would include how to divide oil revenues, the currency, removing nuclear weapons, and European Union membership – all recurring topics of debate in the run up to the referendum.

He also used the end to Conservative rule in Scotland as a bargaining chip. Salmond laid the foundations for an attack on the Tories by explaining that any government of an independent Scotland would control tax, the economy, social security, employment, immigration, oil and gas revenues, European policy and other areas now under Westminster's grip.

“That may be the SNP. It may be Labour. It may be a coalition,” said Salmond.

“I tell you what it won't be. It won't be a government led by a party with just a single MP in Scotland,” he said to cheers.

Only one of Scotland's 59 members elected to the British parliament is a Conservative, prompting frequent jokes that there are more giant pandas in Scotland - two at Edinburgh Zoo - than Conservative MPs.

Mr Salmond's push comes as opinion polls this week showed support for independence nudging up to around 40 percent, up from 30 percent a year ago, and compared to 45 percent opposition, making independence a possibility for the first time in the SNP 80-year history.

While Nationalists argue that oil-rich Scotland can afford to go it alone, and should make its own decisions and not have its fate determined by politicians in London, opponents stress that the nations that make up Britain are strongest together - both financially and on the world stage.

His speech comes after Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressed the conference on Friday, where she made a direct appeal to Scots loyal to Labour to vote Yes.

“The Yes campaign is not asking you to leave your party. Instead, it offers you the chance to get your party back - a Labour Party free to make its own decisions, no longer dancing to a Westminster tune.

“For everyone out there with Labour in your heart, the message is clear. Don't vote No to stop the SNP. Vote Yes to reclaim the Labour Party,” she said.