The Scottish National Party unveiled its first Budget amid growing speculation about the future of the Union after the First Minister, Alex Salmond, predicted Scotland would be independent by 2017.
The Finance Secretary, John Swinney, laid out his plans to freeze council tax next year but also withdrew the SNP's popular election pledge to scrap student fees.
However, his spending plans were overshadowed by a characteristically audacious claim from Mr Salmond that Scotland would have broken off from the rest of UK within 10 years, gaining the freedom to set its own taxes and laying claim to most of the oil reserves in the North Sea.
"It would be much easier if we had the full powers of an independent country," Mr Salmond said as he set out his vision of an oil-rich Scotland matching the economic growth of the UK and EU countries over the coming years. "I was anticipating being in that position by 2017," he said.
Mr Salmond's timetable comes at a difficult time for the 300-year Union between Scotland and England in the wake of devolution. Gordon Brown has been attempting to prevent the rise of nationalism in Scotland – and equally in England – by talking up "Britishness".
However, some Conservative MPs have been keen to emphasise the so-called West Lothian Question – about why Westminster-based MPs from Scottish constituencies have a say in English affairs, but English MPs have no say in matters north of the border.Reuse content