Scotland politics

Scottish Independence: Holyrood endorses independence

The Scottish Parliament has formally endorsed the principle of independence, in a vote by MSPs.

The move came as First Minister Alex Salmond led a Holyrood debate, setting out his vision for the future.

The vote has no legal significance, as the issue will be decided in a referendum expected in autumn 2014.

Rival parties said the SNP had failed to define what independence meant, and argued Scotland would be stronger within the Union.

The SNP, with its overall majority of seats at Holyrood, ensured a government motion backing independence was passed by 69 votes to 52.

The first minister said devolution, in 1999, had shown people that Scotland could run health, education and justice services.

"The Scottish Parliament has achieved a great deal in its short lifespan - the smoking ban, the world-leading Climate Change Act, the new legislation to help tackle Scotland's relationship with alcohol - these are just a few of the many, many advances," he said.

"But this parliament is not yet able to make many of the key decisions which affect the lives of our fellow countrymen and women."

The Scottish government is setting out out its detailed vision for an independence Scotland, in 2013.

As a starting point, Mr Salmond said the parliament would continue as it is, with a single chamber, a first minister and cabinet elected by members, retention of local councils and national elections held under a proportional representation system.

The High Court, he said, would become the Supreme Court in Scotland, while the country would be an EU member with the Queen as head of state and Sterling as its currency.

The debate came after last week's launch of the cross-party "yes" campaign for independence, which is asking one million Scots to sign a declaration of support by the time of the referendum.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said Scotland had a rich history as part of Britain, telling MSPs: "We as a nation were never conquered, the United Kingdom has not been imposed upon us, it is the choice of Scots to share power with our neighbours on these small islands - and we are stronger together.

"Had Scotland been a separate country right now, I believe we would be seriously looking at creating the type of union we currently enjoy, the type of social economic and political union that has brought us 300 years of peace and stability, the type of union that allows us to weather the worst economic crisis of our lifetime when the banking sector collapsed."

The Tories' Ruth Davidson said that, if Scotland did become independent, there would be no going back.

"The most remarkable thing about the debate on Scotland's future is the unwillingness, or perhaps even the inability, of the SNP to define exactly what they mean by independence, or any indication of any preparatory work having been undertaken at all to check their assertions are even possible."

"On the one hand, they argue that independence - separating from England, Wales and Northern Ireland - would transform Scotland, but, on the the other, they argue that very little would actually change."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie asked that, if the SNP had deemed it appropriate for the issue if independence to be put to a vote at Holyrood now, why did the people of Scotland have to wait until 2014 to have their say.

Citing an SNP claim made against its opponents, Mr Rennie said he had never believed Scotland was "too poor and too stupid" to be independent, adding: "I've always believed in devolving more power to Scotland - that's what I've campaigned for my whole life.

"Inherent in that is a belief in Scotland's abilities to do much more - that doesn't mean I want to be separate."

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