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Referendum is about Scotland, not SNP: first minister

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond will seek to set aside party politics on Saturday as he appeals to Labour voters to back independence in the nation's forthcoming referendum, insisting the priority is the future of Scotland.

Speaking at his Scottish National Party's final conference before the historic vote on September 18, Salmond will say that all parties will be involved in negotiating the break with the United Kingdom in the event of a "yes" vote.

"This referendum is not about this party, or this first minister, or even the wider 'yes' campaign," the SNP leader will say, according to pre-released extracts of his speech.

"It's about putting Scotland's future in Scotland's hand."

The three main parties in the British parliament in London -- the ruling Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and the opposition Labour party -- have shown rare unity in their campaign against independence for Scotland.

But the SNP is hoping to appeal to Labour supporters in particular to vote "yes" later this year as the only way to secure a left-leaning government in Edinburgh.

In the 2011 elections for the Scottish parliament, the SNP won 65 seats and Labour won 38, while Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives won just 15.

The Tories also currently have just one member of parliament north of the border.

"A 'yes' vote in September is not a vote for me, or for an SNP government in 2016. It's a vote for a government in Scotland that the people of Scotland choose, pursuing policies the people of Scotland support," Salmond will say.

He will add: "That may be the SNP, it may be Labour. It may be a coalition. I tell you what it won't be. It won't be a government led by a party with just a single MP in Westminster."

Opinion polls have consistently placed the "no" campaign ahead, and with 158 days to go until the referendum, the SNP hopes this weekend's conference will help boost their support.

One survey this week gave the "no" camp a 10-point lead, while another conducted for the "yes" camp found 40 percent were in favour of independence, and 45 percent against.

- 'Don't vote against SNP' -

Salmond opened the conference in Scotland's oil capital of Aberdeen on Friday, urging delegates to seize "the opportunity of a lifetime" in the referendum.

The SNP is this year marking the 80th anniversary of its foundation, which it hopes to celebrate by breaking Scotland's 300-year link with the United Kingdom.

Scotland has had a devolved government since 1998 which has control over education, health, environment and justice matters, but London still decides defence and foreign policy.

One of the SNP's arguments for independence is that for much of its history, Scotland has been ruled by a Conservative government it did not elect.

In her conference speech on Friday, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Tories had engaged in a "moral crusade" to cut welfare as part of their austerity programme.

"For everyone out there with Labour in your heart, the message is clear. Don't vote 'no' to stop the SNP. Vote Yes to reclaim the Labour party," she said.

However, Drew Smith, Labour's constitutional spokesman, condemned the "narrow politics of division and grievance".

"Nicola Sturgeon has been campaigning against Labour all her political life, in good times, and in bad times, and when we were lifting children and pensioners out of poverty, she still argued for nationalism," he said.

"The Scottish Labour Party works in partnership with people all over the UK and beyond who share our values of fairness and equality."

The SNP hopes Scotland could declare independence on March 24, 2016 -- the 413th anniversary of the unification of the English and Scottish thrones, and the 309th anniversary of the merging of the English and Scottish parliaments.

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