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Sturgeon firm on independence vow

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted the SNP is not "changing its tune" on Scottish independence after her predecessor Alex Salmond said the party's landslide general election victory had brought it closer.

The SNP leader and Scotland's First Minister insisted that her promise during the campaign that the vote was not about independence still stood and said she was determined to unite the country.

She was speaking after former first minister Alex Salmond said he believed independence would "absolutely" happen in his lifetime following the SNP securing all but three of Scotland's Westminster constituencies.

Asked how close Scotland was to independence after the result, Mr Salmond said: " Scotland has seen a number of days that many people thought we would never see.

"People thought there would never be a Scottish parliament; then some people thought there would never be an SNP government, some people thought there would never be a majority SNP government.

"So this is the latest staging post in what seems progress for Scottish people."

Responding to the remarks, Ms Sturgeon told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "What Alex said, and I don't think it's a particularly controversial statement, is that he thinks Scotland will become an independent country.

"I think Scotland will become an independent country one day. He said he thinks it will be in his lifetime, I hope that's the case."

Ms Sturgeon denied that the general election had moved the country closer to that result or that her that the party was "changing its tune".

She said: "T here's no disagreement between Alex and I on this, this general election campaign was not about independence.

"I said that repeatedly, I said it consistently and I said expressly to people in Scotland that if they voted SNP, and half of the Scottish population did, I would not take that as an endorsement of independence . I stick to that position.

"I'm a great believer in what you say before an election should be what you say after. Many people who voted no for independence in the referendum, who would vote no if the referendum was tomorrow, voted SNP on Thursday.

"I've got a responsibility to make sure that we represent all of them but also that we represent those who didn't vote for us and seek to win their trust.

"As First Minister, as leader of the SNP, I've got a responsibility to try to unite Scotland and I'm determined that I do that."

Ms Sturgeon insisted that the SNP's 56 MPs would be able to exert influence at Westminster despite the Tory majority.

She said: "Scotland clearly doesn't want austerity to continue, and there are discussions we will require to have about the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government's budget, d iscussions that I will want to have about £12 billion of welfare cuts that David Cameron didn't specify in the election that will hit disabled people.

"The will of the Scottish people has to be listened to. I think it's likely, given that Labour are entering a period of introspection and questioning their very purpose in life, the SNP is going to be the principle opposition to the Conservatives."

Ms Sturgeon said that David Cameron had not indicated to her that he was willing to move to offer Scotland full fiscal autonomy.

She said: "Our manifesto set out very clearly that we would want to move to full fiscal responsibility. Clearly that will take a number of years to implement.

"What we will argue for is priority devolution of powers over business taxes, employment, the minimum wage, welfare, because these are the levers we need to grow our economy faster, to get more people into work paying taxes and lifting people out of poverty.

"David Cameron didn't give me any indication that he wanted to move beyond the current Smith Commission proposals. I think he has to and that clearly is one of the things we we are going to have to discuss."

Asked what she thought about a new federal settlement for Britain, Ms Sturgeon said: "I want more powers for Scotland, it's not for me to dictate to other parts of the UK whether that's regions of England or Wales what the right settlement for them might be but the more power that is decentralised out of this place behind us here (Westminster) perhaps the better for everybody."

Speaking later on the BBC's Sunday Politics Scotland programme, Ms Sturgeon's deputy Stewart Hosie backed her view that powers over business taxes and welfare should be devolved as quickly as possible.

He said this could be done in advance of full fiscal autonomy which would "take years" to implement.

During that period, the Barnett formula, used to calculate Scotland's share of the UK budget, would "wither" as more powers are handed to Holyrood, the SNP deputy leader added.

"We laid out the priority powers on job creation and welfare as quickly as we can, and if we can do that in advance of everything else being delivered, then good and well, it allows the Scottish Government to get to work more quickly on creating jobs, tackling inequality, and thereafter the other powers will follow," Mr Hosie said.

"When we talk about business taxes for example, if we want to bear down on employment costs let's devolve national insurance, if we want to encourage innovation, let's devolve research and development tax credits.

"We know that a fairer society is a more prosperous one, so let's devolve welfare in full, rather than 15% of the spending or so as proposed by the Smith Commission.

"It's the priorities we need to grow the economy, create jobs and make Scotland a fairer place."

Asked about the prospect of full fiscal autonomy being offered by the Conservative government and Barnett formula funding being withdrawn, he said: "The Scottish National Party have stood ready for a very long time to take those responsibilities.

"Barnett will wither over a period of time, it won't simply be switched off, it will wither and become less important."

Mr Cameron insisted that "there isn't going to be another referendum".

Asked if he was confident he would not be the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, he told Channel 4 News: "Very confident. The United Kingdom voted to stay together in that referendum.

"We had a referendum. Respect and trust should be at the heart of our system and that's what we did and Scotland voted emphatically to stay in the United Kingdom which I think was an affirmation of what a great country this is.

"There isn't going to be another referendum. We had the referendum and the SNP aren't pushing for another referendum actually, Nicola Sturgeon said that vote in the general election was not about another referendum.

"Now what we need to do is bring the United Kingdom together. We are going to do that by delivering the devolution settlement in Wales, delivering the devolution settlement in Scotland, keeping all the pledges that were made."

Speaking after taking part in commemorations of the 70th anniversary of VE Day, he said: "That's one of the things this Government should be about: the idea of renewing and refreshing the United Kingdom.

"And today is a good day to remember just what the United Kingdom stands for and what it has done. The United Kingdom stood alone against Hitler. That's what these people did."


From Belfast Telegraph