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Wendy; Time for a public indy vote.

A VOTE on independence moved a step closer last night after Labour chief Wendy Alexander backed a referendum.

In a U-turn from Labour, a senior source said she now wants Scots to have a vote on quitting the UK.

It came after a BBC interview where she urged the SNP to bring forward their referendum Bill at Holyrood. And a senior Labour source, close to Alexander, confirmed she now wants Scots to have a vote on quitting the UK.

The dramatic U-turn puts Alex Salmond under pressure to put his goal of independence to the people before the next Holyrood election in 2011.

The source said: "Wendy has been talking about this for a while.

"She has been in favour of an early referendumand has argued that for some time internally.

"She believes it would end the uncertainty.

"It is not good for business, it is not good for government if we are focusing on independence rather than what we should be concentrating on - schools, hospitals, crime. We are not in a position, and never have been, of saying people should be denied the opportunity to have their say.

"But we are clear the overwhelming majority of Scots will say No to independence.

"The question is, why is Salmond waiting till 2010?

"If he has got nothing to fear from the verdict of the Scottish people, why is he doing this so late?"

Quizzed about a referendum on the BBC's Politics Show yesterday, Alexander said: "I haven't ruled it out."

She added: "It is worrying that the SNP appear to be toying with the electorate by saying, 'We want this, it's the reason we came into politics, but by the way we are frightened to bring the matter forward'. I don't fear the verdict of the Scottish people - bring it on." In a message to the Nats, she added: "This is your policy, have the courage of your convictions to bring it forward and let the parliament make up its mind."

Salmond plans to table a Referendum Bill at Holyrood in 2010, probably after the next general election.

It had appeared doomed to fail, with Labour, Tory and Lib Dem MSPs all opposed.

But backing from Alexander and other Labour MSPs who want to "call the SNP's bluff" would make the historic national vote possible.

However, it could deal Salmond akiller blow.

The First Minister has already admitted that a No vote would kill off independence for a generation.

As recently as March, at Labour's conference in Aviemore, Alexander publicly rejected a referendum.

But she and Prime Minister Gordon Brown have taken soundings from senior figures within Labour since then.

And Alexander's team have become convinced that Salmond wants to put off his Bill until opinion polls are more favourable.

An opinion poll last week put support for independence at a paltry 19 per cent.

And one of Salmond's biggest supporters, Kwik Fit founder Sir Tom Farmer, publicly urged him to delay the push for independence in an interview with a Sunday paper.

Salmond favours a straight "yes" or "no" vote - but he says he would accept a three-option poll on independence, more powers for Holyrood or the status quo.

The public would rank the options in order of preference under the single transferable vote system.

In theory, Scotland could become independent if just 26 per cent of voters made separation their first choice in a referendum poll.

Lib Dem chief whip Robert Brown branded Alexander's move a panic response after Labour's pasting in the English and Welsh elections last week.

He added: "It is bad enough that we have to put up with Alex Salmond's constant humbug about are ferendum on independence without the Labour Party thinking that they can use one to call the SNP's bluff."


U-TURN: Alexander; BRING IT ON: Alexander has called Salmond's bluff PA PHOTO
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 5, 2008
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