Salmond renews ‘national conversation’ efforts

Scottish first minister Alex Salmond is focusing on civic institutions as the second phase of his government’s ‘National Conversation’ on devolution begins.

The Scottish National party (SNP) leader wants trade unions, universities and colleges, business representatives and those from religious, legal and voluntary groups to contribute to the debate on whether Scotland should achieve full independence from Britain.

Mr Salmond launched the National Conversation with his government’s Choosing Scotland’s Future white paper in August 2007.

Although the SNP is committed to full independence the white paper proposes alternatives in which Holyrood’s powers are slowly extended or undergo a radical extension.

Mr Salmond said the issue has attracted significant interest, claiming the National Conversation website has attracted over 300,000 hits while the white paper has been viewed 26,000 times.

“We have the chance to shape the future of the nation – and it is important that civic Scotland plays a central role,” Mr Salmond said.

“We need to find the best way of achieving Scotland’s ambitions in the modern world.

“Already I’ve been impressed by the energy and insight that the representatives of Scotland’s great institutions have to offer the dialogue. Their contribution will be pivotal in helping Scots choose the right path.”

The Scottish Labour party is opposing the National Conversation and is instead backing the Scottish parliament’s commission on a review of the devolution settlement.

Yesterday its leader, Wendy Alexander, unveiled Professor Sir Kenneth Calman as the commission’s chairman.

“Unlike the SNP’s National Conversation, the commission has a genuine mandate from the Scottish parliament and it enjoys real cross-party support,” she commented.

“The vast majority of Scots want Scotland to walk tall but not walk out of the UK and it is the Scottish parliament commission that best reflects mainstream opinion in Scotland.”