Salmond sets ten-year target for independence

Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has set a ten-year target for winning independence from Westminster.

The SNP leader had previously promised to hold a referendum on independence by the end of the nationalist party’s first term in government.

Yesterday, however, he predicted Scotland would gain independence within a decade, leaving it free to raise its own tax revenue and lay claim to the North Sea oil reserves.

The latest opinion polls show less than a quarter of Scots back independence, the lowest since 1997.

Mr Salmond was speaking to journalists in Scotland as he laid out the SNP’s long-term economic plans for Scotland, ahead of their first Budget today.

The first minister said he wanted to match the economic growth of other small independent European countries by 2017.

Mr Salmond said yesterday: “What you can take from the 2017 target is that we are confident we are going to have the [economic] levers by the time we get to 2017.”

He continued: “It would be much easier if we had the full powers of an independent country. Therefore I was anticipating being in that position by 2017.”

In his first Budget today, finance secretary John Swinney is set to make economic growth his top priority. This will be enabled by cutting business rates, support for enhanced skill training and a boost for renewable energy.

Opposition politicians claim the Budget will confirm the SNP has scaled down many of its 1,000 manifesto pledges.

Unionist MSPs have already accused the nationalist executive of reneging on a pledge of more police officers and predict a promise of smaller class sizes will be similarly scaled back.

As a minority government, the SNP will need to win the backing of opposition MSPs to pass its budgetry measures.

The SNP has complained of inadequate funding from Westminster, claiming it has received the worst financial settlement since devolution began.

The Treasury said last month Scottish government spending will rise by 1.8 per cent a year over the next three years, amounting to an increase of £1.2 billion to £3.7 billion a year.

Mr Salmond claimed the real deal is closer to 1.4 per cent.

The Scottish secretary Des Browne insisted the spending review is “very good for Scotland”.