Sturgeon leads SNP call on independence

GLASGOW MSP and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will today spell out the message that Scotland can, should and must be an independent country.

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She will be the main speaker later today when the SNP spring conference opens in Aberdeen. It will be the party's last conference before the independence referendum in September.

The Nationalist will use the platform to attempt to further narrow the gap in the opinion polls, which has seen some surveys show support for independence growing but still behind those who say they will vote No.

Party leader and First Minister Alex Salmond will give his speech to the conference tomorrow.

The gathering will see delegates focus on delivering the party's message of how it believes independence will benefit people across Scotland.

This will include discussions on using investment from oil revenues in an oil fund, saving cash from removing Trident from the Clyde and Scottish MPs from Westminster, and designing a Scottish tax and welfare system that would abolish the so-called 'bedroom tax'.

Renfrewshire West and North MSP Derek Mackay, the SNP business convener, said the Yes campaign was convincing people of the merits of independence and was moving closer to reaching a majority.

He said: "It is game on in the campaign, with support for Yes and No virtually neck and neck.

"In recent months support for a Yes vote has grown significantly, with the most recent poll finding Yes only needs another three points to get to 50%.

"This is hugely encouraging. As more and more people hear the case for Yes, they are realising Scotland can, should and must be independent."

A poll on voting intentions puts the SNP ahead of Labour for votes for the Scottish Parliament, Westminster and Euro­pean elections, but the lead is not transferred when it comes to the independence referendum.

The same poll showed support for a Yes vote in the referendum at 37% - below Mr Mackay's estimate - while 47% of people said they would be voting No.

Mr Mackay added: "With the poll showing the SNP leading in Holyrood, European and Westminster voting intentions, we can be encouraged, but we can't be complacent."

Alistair Darling, leader of the Better Together campaign arguing for No vote in September, also said no-one could be complacent about the result.

He said: "It's increasingly clear people in Scotland want to have the best of both worlds - a strong Scottish Parliament, with the guarantee of more powers, backed up by the strength, security and stability of being part of the UK.

"While the SNP spends every day talking about how it wants to break up the UK, devolution is clearly the settled will of the Scottish people."

stewart.paterson@ eveningtimes.co.uk

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