Disillusioned Scots are 'ready for independence'

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VETERAN nationalist Margo MacDonald has told the SNP it is time to end the "stealth" campaign driving its independence push in recent years and give Scots the real picture.

The former SNP MP and MSP has warned she will only back an independence referendum if a full public information campaign is undertaken about the impact of Scotland going it alone.

But she believes Scots are ready to vote "yes" after growing disillusionment with Westminster over the recent wars in the Gulf and the MPs' expenses scandal.

Ms MacDonald has been critical of the gradualist approach which hinged on voters seeing a nationalist government at work and realising there was effectively nothing to fear from unionist scaremongering about separatism under the SNP.

"They tried to advance by stealth - instead of meeting arguments head on and trying to defeat them intellectually, academically and politically," the independent candidate for Lothians said.

But this effectively dampened the public appetite for the party's raison d'tre of a sovereign Scottish state.

Ms MacDonald added: "That was never going to work. The psychology was the more the SNP made improvements using devolution, the less likely that Scots would be to want any sort of institutional upheaval.

"People aren't interested in constitutional upheaval per se, but what makes me think the SNP sold themselves short was that they didn't listen to what people had said they wanted to happen in Scotland and they wanted the Scottish Parliament to do."

The left-winger has been a key figure in the nationalist movement since she pulled off a shock victory for the party at the Govan by-election of 1973. Although she failed to hold the seat in the following year's general election, the former PE teacher became party deputy leader in 1974, a post she held in 1979.

But she was widely perceived as backing a more fundamental approach to independence which resulted in her being placed fifth on the regional list for Lothians in 2003 under John Swinney's leadership - prompting her to run successfully as an independent.

With polls indicating that the SNP and Greens, who both back a referendum, are tantalisingly close to a Holyrood majority, the support of Ms MacDonald could be pivotal in securing a vote.

The veteran nationalist said a "programme of information" is essential before any referendum could be held.

This would "compare and contrast" the work of the devolved administration with the alternative approach an independent Scottish government might pursue.

She added: "I will only vote for a referendum when I feel that people have the information they need to make an informed decision."

But asked if she believed Scots would vote for independence in a referendum, if the information campaign had been made available, she said: "Yes, I think so."

She added: "I don't know whether anybody in Scotland now believes we should be spending what we're spending on Trident. All of the alternatives to the sort of defence and security systems we could have are not known to the Scots. They just think 'what will happen if Scotland is separated for the rest of the United Kingdom - we'll have nothing.'

"Nobody has ever said this is one state with assets and liabilities and if it decides to become two states, then you have to negotiate to share the assets and the liabilities."

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"The respect and trust in Westminster as a political institution has greatly diminished. Partly because of the adventures in Iraq, but also because of the economic collapse and because of the corruption there was found to be in Westminster. All those things came together."

Ms MacDonald say the priority for Alex Salmond, if the SNP win next week's election, should be to convene a cross-party group at parliament which would agree on the powers needed at Holyrood to boost the economy. This body - representing the Scottish Parliament rather than political parties - should then be dispatched from Westminster to negotiate the transfer of these powers.

Ms MacDonald yesterday pledged to introduce a bill, if re-elected, to limit the amount of interest money lenders charge on loans, amid concerns that some charging huge rates of interest are "feasting" on the financial problems of poor families.

The market for payday loans grew by three-and-a-half times between 2006 and 2009 when it was estimated to be worth 1.2 billion.

She said: "Licensed companies are taking advantage of the serious problems the low paid face in making ends meet. People are really up against it."

Among the firms she singled out for criticism was wonga.com which was yesterday unveiled as the new shirt sponsor for Hearts FC, although the politician accepted the Tynecastle club is entitled to pursue the deal because the firm is operating legally.

Legislation which would effectively introduce assisted dying will also be brought back if she is returned as an MSP after this was rejected in the last parliament. She hopes a new crop of MSPs could be persuaded to support the legislation.

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