Best of the rest at conference



The SNP annual conference heard Scotland needs independence to best deal with the impact of public spending cuts.

Angus Robertson, the SNP's campaign manager for next year's election and MP for Moray, said the party was now "firing the starting gun" for the election campaign.

He said: "We are going into this election campaign in good heart, because we know Scotland does need an SNP Government, does need Alex Salmond for first minister and we do need independence."

None of the nine speakers who addressed delegates in a debate on the issue in Perth raised the Nationalist Government's recent decision to shelve legislation on an independence referendum at Holyrood.


SNP activists demanded an investigation into whether business banking in Scotland is "fit for purpose".

Nationalist and former banker Douglas Thomson led calls for the Office of Fair Trading to carry out a probe.

He said 80% of lending to small and medium sized firms in Scotland was done by just two banks - the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Lloyds Banking Group.

Mr Thomson, from the party's Glasgow Kelvin branch, complained: "That's way too concentrated and puts too much influence over the Scottish economy into the hands of just two institutions."

Conference delegates said British armed forces should be pulled out of Afghanistan by the end of next year.

Withdrawal, they said, would make Britain safer and coalition objectives in the country will not be achieved at the "barrel of a gun".

Liz Bardell, of the party's Livingston East branch, said more than 340 UK troops have been killed in the conflict - proportionately more than other coalition partners.

Another delegate, Donnie McNeill, branded the recent death of aid worker Linda Norgrove "a tragic loss of life".


Military jobs and bases face the axe in next week's long-awaited UK government announcement on defence spending, the conference heard.

But reports indicate that two new aircraft carriers being built on the Clyde and at Rosyth could saved from the axe.

Concerns have been raised about the possible impact of cuts on RAF bases in Scotland, particularly Kinloss and Lossiemouth in Moray.

The budget for the Ministry of Defence is thought to have been finalised as part of the Chancellor George Osborne's comprehensive spending review next week.


Scotland's food and drink industry has been boosted by a £1bn sales rise, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead revealed.

Final figures for 2008 showed the sector had sales totalling £11.2bn - up from £10.2bn the previous year.

Mr Lochhead hailed the industry's "outstanding performance", saying the food and drink continued "to play a key role in Scotland's economic recovery".

"Scotland's food and drink is already a fantastic success story and an industry punching well above its weight," he said.

Prime Minister David Cameron was warned not to "even contemplate" the closure of two Scottish RAF bases, by a senior Scottish government minister.

The loss of RAF Kinloss and Lossiemouth in Moray would be a "hammer blow" for the area, rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead told the SNP conference in Perth today.

The bases' fate will be set out early next week when the UK Government unveils a range of cuts to military spending.

Mr Lochhead, MSP for Moray, the area, said his constituents faced a "very anxious 72 hours" as they await the announcement.

The Scottish National Party claimed it was now more popular than Scottish Labour, after announcing its membership numbers had hit the 16,000 mark.

The 16,000th member - teenager Scott Campbell - said: "Even at 16, it is plain to see that Scotland gets a raw deal from Westminster and from the Union."

The SNP said its membership had increased to its current number from 10,995, in 2005.

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