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Salmond 'believes in referendums'

Alex Salmond dismissed claims that he intends to make a unilateral declaration of Scottish independence as MSPs gathered for the first time since the No vote in the referendum.

Unionist politicians raised concerns at the outgoing First Minister's recent comments that "a referendum is only one of a number of routes" for Scotland to "improve its position in pursuit of Scottish independence".

He faced calls to accept the will of the 55% of people who voted No, and acknowledge that UK membership is now "the settled will of the Scottish people".

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is widely tipped to become Scotland's next First Minister, was asked to distance herself from Mr Salmond's "plans to simply assert independence".

Speaking at Holyrood today, Mr Salmond said: "I have no intention of a unilateral declaration of independence."

He added: "I believe in referendums. I think in Scotland in particular referendums are really important, because it applies to the key constitutional requirement and history of Scotland, that's the sovereignty of the people. That's why I advocated it and continue to advocate it."

Mr Salmond said the SNP will bring forward "constructive proposals" to the Smith Commission, which has been tasked with building a cross-party consensus on more powers for Scotland.

He stressed the need to maintain the Barnett formula, saying it is "vital that new economic powers do not in any way disadvantage Scotland".

Mr Salmond said: "The Barnett formula promise is essential, until or unless Scotland has control of all of our own resources."

He also raised concerns that unionist pledges to protect Holyrood from being dissolved by any future UK Government were "missing from the motion at Westminster".

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont and Conservative counterpart Ruth Davidson said it is now time to move on from the independence debate.

Ms Lamont said: "We cannot spend the next two years, having moved from: 'If you vote Yes this will happen', to: 'If you had voted Yes that would have happened'.

"We cannot leave the politics of the place in that shape. We need to move on."

Ms Davidson said: "Since Friday, we have had three senior nationalists, including the First Minister himself, saying there are other ways to unilaterally declare independence.

"We need those at the top to respect and accept the result. Because without such acceptance, we cannot move on. And move on we must."

To repeated cheers from the SNP benches, she added: "I have here five pages of quotes from members of these Government benches where they say 'only with independence'."

SNP Environment Minister Richard Lochhead shouted: "You should have voted Yes."

Ms Davidson continued: "This Government has spent seven years telling the country all of the things it says it can't do. Now it has 18 months to tell us the things that it can do."

Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie questioned whether Mr Salmond accepted the result of the vote, and urged the SNP to "engage positively" with the Smith Commission.

"Not with some back-door attempts to re-run the referendum, not with some back-door attempt to put forward three tests which sound exactly like the tests the First Minister set for independence, but with positive proposals for change that reflect the biggest ever democratic endorsement this country has ever seen," he said.

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie called on Ms Sturgeon to distance herself from Mr Salmond's "unilateral declaration of independence".

"You cannot on the one hand talk about respecting the result and then deny the democratic will of the people and set out plans to simply assert independence," she said.

Labour colleague Neil Findlay, Labour MSP for Lothian, said: "Can I ask the First Minister to reflect on his comments of yesterday and consign his plans for a constitutional coup d'etat to the waste paper bin marked very bad and dangerous ideas?"

Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie said the Smith Commission must avoid becoming "just another party political stitch-up".

"Whether its large parties or small parties, if this is a deal done inside the political bubble then it will fail to give effect to that groundswell appetite and enthusiasm for genuine democratic reform," he said.

SNP MSP Kevin Stewart said: "That genie is now well and truly out of the bottle and woe betide any politician or political party that does not recognise that Scotland and her people have changed forever."

SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson said the No vote could turn into "a Pyrrhic victory" - success at a great cost for the victor - for the No campaign.

"Today's Australian newspaper, in its leading article, says: 'Scottish nationalists need not despair - they have lost the battle but not necessarily the war'," he said.

SNP MSP Christine Grahame accused the mainstream media of bias and scaremongering.

"No-one in the No side can possibly dispute the inequality of the debate there, w ith only one national paper, the Sunday Herald, declaring for Yes, the headlines screaming: 'Vote Yes for higher prices' and so on," she said.

"Nicholas Witchell (the BBC royal correspondent) even had the audacity to tell us the Queen's private thoughts on the debate - BBC impartiality parked."

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