Parliament and Politics: SNP plans to use summit to renew independence call

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THE European Community summit in Edinburgh in December was targeted yesterday by Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party, as crucial to renewing the political debate on Scotland's constitutional future.

Giving his address at the SNP's annual conference in Perth, Mr Salmond promised that 'one way or another the voice of the Scottish people will be heard by those gathered in Scotland's capital'.

Taking advantage of the Government's difficulties, Mr Salmond said: 'Scotland can no longer afford to have our economy mismanaged from London.' He added that after the disarray of last week 'never again should Scots believe that the men in the Treasury know best'.

What Mr Salmond meant by 'one way or another' was not spelt out. But mass demonstrations at all the summit's venues are being planned, with the aim of convincing European leaders that a multi-option referendum on constituitional change is something Scots are entitled to.

'We have the moral high ground in this debate,' Mr Salmond said, 'and we intend to stay there until Scotland's democratic rights are respected.'

The nationalists believe that the present confusion over Maastricht, and the prospect of further uncertainty, will pave the way for calls for a referendum on the European treaty. It is a hope that the SNP clearly intends to take full advantage of. Mr Salmond said: 'In the case of Scotland, the vote on Europe must be combined with a vote on Scotland's constitutional future within Europe.'

Earlier in the conference an attempt was made to undermine Mr Salmond's authority by criticising his links with other groups in Scotland pushing for a multi-option referendum. Gordon Wilson, the former SNP leader, attacked the pressure group Scotland United and singled out George Galloway, the Labour MP who has appeared alongside Mr Salmond in meetings inside SNP headquarters in Edinburgh.

However, Mr Salmond used the leader's address to reassure his critics. 'There are opportunities coming for Scotland. If others from across the political spectrum will join in that call then we should welcome that support on the single issue of a referendum for Scotland.'

At last year's conference Mr Salmond unveiled plans for his Scottish 'cabinet'. Little has been heard of this body during the past 12 months. Yesterday the idea of a cabinet elected by SNP members was finally ended. There are fears on the left in the SNP that Mr Salmond wishes to take the party towards more central ground and broaden its support.

A proposal that the SNP describe itself as a 'social democratic' party was defeated. Combined with the loss of his 'cabinet', and criticisms of his links with Scotland United, Mr Salmond is currently leading a far from unified nationalist group.

He acknowledged as much when he said: 'Whatever debates we are engaged in, whatever review of policy we might make, let us always remember an essential requirement. We are not an ordinary political party. Our objective is to build a new Scotland out of the ruins of the British state.'

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