Speaking at the start of the SNP's annual conference in Inverness, Mr Salmond accused Mr Major of 'contemptuous' discrimination against Scots, who, he said, had consistently voiced their desire for constitutional change.
'The right of self-determination is universal, and I don't think the Prime Minister can concede it to the province of Northern Ireland and continue to deny it to the nation of Scotland.'
In the past, Mr Salmond said, Mr Major had insisted that Scots could express their opinions at a general election. But, he went on, 'the Prime Minister has now conceded the principle that people have the right to determine their own constitutional future in a referendum. He should grant one in Scotland'. He dismissed as 'flawed' the 1979 devolution referendum in which 33 per cent of the Scottish electorate called for a Scottish assembly.
SNP delegates arriving in the Highland capital for their four-day conference were in confident mood at the end of what party officials say has been their most successful year. Although it has just three MPs, the SNP captured its highest-ever share of the vote in a national election this year - 33 per cent in the European elections. One month later, it humiliated Labour at the Monklands East by-election, almost overturning the 16,000-vote majority held by John Smith.
SNP strategists believe that the election of a modernist - Tony Blair - as Mr Smith's successor weakens Labour's appeal among 'traditional' working-class voters in Scotland, creating fresh opportunities for nationalist gains.
Mr Salmond's call for a referendum on Scotland's future was echoed yesterday by Jim Wallace, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Speaking in Brighton, Mr Wallace said Scots should have the right to vote for their own parliament.
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