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Appeal for coalition as referendum ruled out; POLITICS.

Nationalists yesterday appealed to the Liberal Democrats to come to the negotiating table in an attempt to form a coalition administration in Scotland.

The call came after the Liberal Democrats again ruled out a referendum on independence and said minority SNP administration was now likely.

Deputy SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon insisted there was still room for the two parties to resolve their differences.

"There have been no formal discussions between the SNP and the Liberal Democrats", she said. "There have been some informal conversations.

"In the course of these, (SNP leader) Alex Salmond made it clear there was scope for negotiation and scope for compromise. But the important thing is that we get round the table. It may be we can't resolve our differences but I think we both have a duty to try."

Mr Salmond said: "The way to break a log jam is to get round the table and to have discussions, that's what I would like to see."

The SNP move came after Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Nicol Stephen ruled out any deal with the SNP so long as they insist on a referendum on independence.

The SNP emerged from last week's Holyrood elections as the biggest single party but only just, with 47 seats to Labour's 46, the Tories' 17, the Liberal Democrats' 16, the Tories two and one independent.

Even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, neither the SNP nor Labour could command a majority, and the Liberal Democrats appear to have ruled out a coalition with Labour, but an SNP-Lib Dem-Green coalition would have a single vote majority.

Earlier, Mr Stephen said he had made clear to Mr Salmond there could be no coalition until the SNP removed the "fundamental barrier" of an independence referendum within the next four years.

"We consistently stated to people across Scotland during the campaign this was our position and it will not change," he said.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 8, 2007
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