Salmond tears into the Tory-led 'Lord Snootys'

Scottish First Minister pulls no punches at SNP conference as he urges his cheering supporters to follow his dream of independence

Alex Salmond mocked the Conservative-led Government at Westminster as a "bunch of incompetent Lord Snootys" yesterday in a defiant appeal to Scots to ditch the United Kingdom and forge their own path.

The SNP leader tore into the Tories, mocking both the Chancellor's much-publicised attempt to travel first class on a second-class ticket and the resignation of the Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell.

To raucous cheers from party delegates at their annual party conference in Perth concert hall, Mr Salmond asked: "Why on earth do we allow this bunch of incompetent Lord Snootys to be in positions of authority over our country?"

In an obvious attempt to highlight a clear divide between Scots and the Tory-led government in London, Mr Salmond dismissed the Westminster administration as one that "can't run a railway, never mind a country".

He then went further and used the Scottish poet Rabbie Burns's famous line dismissing those Scots who signed the Treaty of Union, deriding all those in the coalition government as "a parcel of rogues".

The message from his speech was clear Ω "Westminster is beyond salvation," the Scottish First Minister declared. He told Scots they could have a better future, if they broke from the UK. "Our social democratic Scotland can still be won," he said.

At heart, Mr Salmond's speech to his party conference was a tub-thumping declaration of faith in the independence dream.

And, in what is sure to become a major theme of his two-year campaign for Scottish independence, Mr Salmond attacked the failures of Westminster in more strident terms than he has ever done before.

He offered Scots the choice of staying with an "incompetent" Tory-led government in London or striding out on a new path with a socially democratic, left-of-centre, SNP-led independent Scotland.

The First Minister raised the prospect of Scotland losing all the gains – from free elderly care to free prescriptions – that devolution had delivered, unless Scots went further and voted for independence.

"Labour's leaders think we have wealth enough for Westminster's weapons of mass destruction, but they tell us we are too poor for Scotland's free personal care.

"If that is the price of London government – it is a price that Scotland will not pay," he stated, to loud cheers from the delegates.

Mr Salmond also took on his critics who claim that an independent Scotland would not have the resources to pay for all the benefits and free public services it uses.

He argued that not only was Scotland contributing more to the UK Treasury in tax revenue than it was getting back, but the country would have even more to spend once it freed itself from such expensive projects as the Trident nuclear-weapons programme.

"Let us call it the independence dividend," he said.

Once again turning his fire on Mr Osborne, Mr Salmond rebuked the Chancellor for refusing Scottish government appeals for more money, and added: "Let the message go out from this conference to a Tory Chancellor – Scotland is not in a mood to take no for an answer."

And referring once again to the Chancellor's embarrassing episode in the first-class compartment, Mr Salmond said: "Westminster would put this first-class nation in the second-class carriages. No more second best for Scotland."

Mr Salmond told his party that its goal was now within reach.

"Friends, Scotland's time is coming. Our home-rule journey, begun by so many years past, is coming to its conclusion. Together, we say 'Yes' – to Scotland and to independence."