Scotland 'cannot afford the Union', SNP conference told

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The SNP finance secretary has warned that Scotland can "no longer afford the Union".

John Swinney told his party's conference the UK government was poised to announce the worst spending cuts in decades, which may see Holyrood's budget next year cut by £1.1bn.

He told delegates in Perth that only under independence could Scotland achieve its true economic potential.

He said the Westminster coalition would cut "too far, too fast".

Mr Swinney said the SNP, which is seeking a second term in government after next May's Holyrood election, had worked hard to support families and businesses during the recession, with measures including a council tax freeze and bonus scheme for small firms.

He said achievements had been made within the "limited powers of devolution", adding: "Just think what we could deliver for our country with the normal powers of independence."

The finance secretary told the conference that the latest official spending figures showed Scotland to be in surplus for the fourth year in a row.

He went on: "In fact, at a time when the UK is cutting our budget, Scotland was in surplus to the tune of well over a billion pounds, compared to a UK deficit of almost £50bn.

"The stark truth is that we can no longer afford the Union."

At a time of severe spending restraint, Mr Swinney said the Scottish government had saved almost £1.5bn during 2009-10, but warned "significant challenges" remained.

"On Wednesday, the chancellor will announce the comprehensive spending review - that will present us with the most difficult spending period in decades," he said.

The UK government, Mr Swinney claimed, were planning £83bn worth of spending cuts, telling the conference: "Those cuts are going too far and too fast.

"By hacking into spending - and that is precisely what the UK government is doing - they threaten economic recovery and they risk the danger of further recession."

Mr Swinney also said it was "crystal clear" the Westminster coalition was cutting in the wrong place, and launched an attack on the £100bn, the Scottish government says would be the cost of replacing Trident nuclear weapons.

"That is financially unsound, morally wrong and we will have none of it," he declared to applause in the conference hall.

The Scottish government has pledged to publish its budget plans within weeks of next Wednesday's UK Spending Review announcement.

Mr Swinney said the SNP's priorities would be to "promote economic recovery, protect frontline services and take action to tackle climate change."

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