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FM promises an indyref tour of public Q&A sessions

People will be able to quiz leading Scottish Government ministers on their plan for independence at a series of meetings across the country.

The publicly-funded events will focus on the blueprint for Scotland after a Yes vote in September next year.

The plan was disclosed by First Minister Alex Salmond at a question and answer session in Edinburgh today, two weeks after the formal White Paper, called Scotland's Future, was published.

"We want people to continue to talk about Scotland's future, and we want to take this conversation out to communities across Scotland," he said.

"We want people to know the ways in which the powers of independence can be used to build a wealthier and fairer Scotland and ensure that everyone benefits from our natural wealth and talent."

The White Paper has already been downloaded 50,000 times, he said.

Mr Salmond was joined at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre by his senior team of ministers, who also answered a range of questions.

The audience included people from large and small businesses, trade unions, the voluntary and public sectors, charities and other organisations.

Topics raised included concerns about the terms of EU membership, the plan to keep sterling as currency, the proposed written constitution and tax policies.

The session was viewed at its peak online by more than 650 people.

The First Minister dismissed recent comments from Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, who suggested Scotland would have to "join the queue" for EU membership.

Asked if there is a plan B for negotiations, Mr Salmond said: "Prime minister Rajoy was asked five times by a Spanish paper in the last week - would he veto an independent Scotland's membership of the European Union - and he refused to say so.

"The reason is that he won't say that and wouldn't do that."

Mr Rajoy faces his own constitutional battle in Spain with moves from Catalonia to secure independence.

The Scottish Government aims to negotiate terms from within the UK after a Yes vote but before "independence day", already proposed for March 2016.

Mr Salmond said: "I can point to the legal provisions that tell you that in no state, no part of a member state, there's no provision to expel anyone from the European Union and you can't invent a process to do that."

Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said independence may not mean disruption for EU agricultural support.

"There's no reason to anticipate any disruption because the budgets are set to 2020," he said.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon highlighted the future of the welfare state.

The impact of reforms on vulnerable people is "scandalous", she said.

"For me, right now, what's happening to our welfare state is one of the biggest arguments for Scotland becoming independent," she told the audience.

"If we don't get the Yes vote next year, then I don't think five years from now or 10 years from now we will have a welfare state in the UK that is recognisable to most of us."

But SNP ministers heard concerns that some answers to policy questions appear to be made "on the hoof".

Ian McKay, from the Institute of Directors, said: "I'd perhaps reflect, along with other business associations, increasing frustration in the business community, particularly those of us seeking to maintain a non-partisan view in the debate, to have proper answers to questions that are important as we see it to business and to the economy.

"It seems to us that increasingly there are answers being made on the hoof to make policies up, or wish-lists that are appearing, that basically tell us when we ask questions that it will be okay when we have independence, or okay from the other side because the UK is a big country."

The cost of policies should be outlined in better detail, he said.

Mr McKay, a former Royal Mail group director in Scotland, highlighted plans to renationalise the service.

"That's an interesting idea, particularly as to how one renationalises part of a company which is established by a stock exchange in a different sovereign state," he said.

"I think there'd be one or two other companies, large multinationals here in Scotland, who'd be interested in the answer to that."

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