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Last updated: October 21, 2012 10:42 am
A majority of Scots would vote for independence if they thought the Conservatives would win the 2015 general election, a new poll has shown.
The results, from the Panelbase survey published by the Sunday Times, show the threat of a Tory-led government turns a 37 per cent minority for independence into a 52 per cent majority.
Alex Salmond, the leader of the Scottish National Party, welcomed the findings, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “It is all to play for, it is game on. The momentum lies with the ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign.”
The poll is a major boost for Mr Salmond as his party’s conference comes to an end in Perth on Sunday. Having faced weeks of sliding poll ratings, he attempted to rally his troops with his keynote speech on Saturday, telling them “no” vote would undo the progress he said had been achieved through devolution.
Speaking at the Scottish National Party annual conference in Perth, the first minister delivered an upbeat message, promising a country “where hope eclipses fear”.
Mr Salmond said: “Scotland’s time is coming. Our home rule journey, begun so many years past by so few, is coming to its conclusion.”
He added: “Scotland is in no mood to take no for an answer.”
The SNP leader has faced a mixed start to this year’s conference. On Monday, he signed a historic agreement to transfer powers for a referendum from Westminster to Holyrood, making it certain for the first time that there will be a vote in 2014.
But the so-called “Edinburgh agreement” has failed to spark any uplift in the polls, with new figures this week showing the independence cause falling to just 30 per cent support.
Mr Salmond told delegates to ignore the polls, saying: “We know there are many of our fellow citizens who remain to be convinced about the merits of independence. But we also know that there is a majority for change in this country.”
His words are a sign of how the independence campaign intends to target voters who believe Scotland should have more powers, but remain unpersuaded that it should be given full independence.
Part of that campaign involves telling voters an independent Scotland will not look very different to its current state – a key reason the leadership was so determined to win Friday’s fractious vote on Nato membership.
He developed that argument in his speech on Saturday, telling the conference: “A parliament which decides on social welfare, Trident, the economy and represents Scotland on the world stage – and you have an independent parliament.”
Another part involves giving the referendum vote to 16- and 17-year-olds, whom polls show are slightly – although not decisively – better disposed to independence. The SNP leader announced he would legislate to make sure everyone over the age of 16 would be on the electoral register by 2014, a process that could be complicated and costly.
Mr Salmond argued that independence would guarantee a centre-left democracy in Scotland, telling delegates to fight the next two years on policy rather than making it a debate over a technical constitutional change.
“Our social democratic Scotland can still be won,” he said. What he called Scotland’s “social contract”, which includes free personal care and bus passes for the elderly and no prescription charges, could only be guaranteed by independence, he argued.
Mr Salmond’s speech was peppered with attacks on Johann Lamont, the Labour leader in Scotland, who recently called for an end to many universal benefits. He told the conference: “Some call it universality, and say its time has passed. I call it human decency and say its time is now.”
Ms Lamont quickly responded, attacking “the nonsense of claiming Scotland would at a stroke be better off with independence when he knows it would push costs up”.
But the first minister’s most effective attacks were directed towards George Osborne, the chancellor, who was on Friday caught boarding a first class train carriage with a standard class ticket.
To sustained cheers, Mr Salmond asked: “Why on earth do we allow this bunch of incompetent Lord Snooties to be in positions of authority over our country?” He later added: “Westminster would put this first class nation into the second class carriages.”
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