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SNP debate on Common Weal vision of Scotland after independence

A VISION of Scotland as a big-state, high-tax independent nation on the Nordic model is to be debated at the SNP's conference amid growing support for the idea at the top of the party.

Dubbed the Common Weal, and promoted by the left-wing Jimmy Reid Foundation, the concept will be the subject of the biggest fringe meeting at the SNP's annual gathering in Perth.

Bill Kidd, the SNP chief whip at Holyrood, also called last night for the Common Weal to be debated formally by the full conference.

He said he would be tabling a motion through his Glasgow Anniesland branch to that effect, and with other SNP branches doing likewise, he said it would be near impossible for the party to avoid a main hall debate in October.

MSP Christina McKelvie, convener of the SNP Parliamentary Trade Union Group, also said she wanted Common Weal debated, provided the underlying motion was sound.

The Reid Foundation last week launched the scottishcommonweal.org website with a call for ideas from academics and the public which could be applied to a post-Yes Scotland, based on policies working in Germany and Scandinavia.

Its vision includes a bigger welfare state with lifelong universal services; a diverse economy with high-skill, high-wage jobs and firms fostered by state lending; and greater local democracy and gender equality.

The Church of Scotland has set up an in-house Common Weal group to analyse the idea.

Last week, Kidd tabled a Holyrood motion backing the Common Weal as "aspirational" – it was signed overnight by one-fifth of SNP MSPs.

It is understood Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is broadly supportive of Common Weal, though wary of its tax implications.

The First Minister is thought to be cooler about the idea, and is waiting to see how party activists react to it before taking a stance.

A Common Weal debate is potentially awkward for Salmond, as it could expose a left-right split, and link independence with high taxes.

The Nordic model is also a direct challenge to Salmond's plan to attract big business to an independent Scotland, with the gimmick of slashing 3p off corporation tax.

Kidd said the Common Weal idea was already down for debate at the biggest fringe venue in Perth, the 300-seat Salutation Hotel, but he also wanted a main hall discussion.

He said: "I believe this is a good way forward. It's the kind of thing we should be looking at as a political party to try to encourage people to vote yes in the referendum."

McKelvie added: "The Common Weal is about creating a society where everybody is valued.

"We need to be working towards a manifesto for 2016. We need to have something in that manifesto that gives people a tangible difference from what they've got right now.

"I think the way to do it is to give people the rights they need to be protected and supported and nurtured through their lifetime."

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said the SNP had to choose whether it was a party of Scandinavian high taxes or low taxes aimed at business.

He said: "Both these future visions can't be right and the SNP will have to choose one or the other."

An SNP spokesman said the party had a "proud tradition of open debate at conference" and that all elected branches were invited to select resolutions for debate.

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