Scottish leader Salmond seeks greater EU role

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Scotland's pro-independence First Minister Alex Salmond called for Edinburgh to have greater powers and more say in European affairs as he was officially re-elected Wednesday for a second term.

His separatist Scottish National Party (SNP) won 69 out of 129 seats in elections on May 6, securing the first overall majority by any party in Edinburgh's devolved assembly since it was formed in 1999.

Salmond has vowed to seek a referendum on independence in the second half of his five-year term. He was unable to do so during his first term which began in 2007 because the SNP did not have a majority.

Speaking after the Edinburgh assembly re-elected him unopposed -- his nomination now needs an official warrant from Britain's Queen Elizabeth II -- he made fresh demands for the British government to cede more powers.

"I think we should seize the moment. Act together to bring these powers back home," said Salmond.

He said Scotland should be given control over tax on alchohol to help tackle the country's notorious booze problem, power over broadcasting and a stronger voice in Europe.

Salmond has already called for Scotland to be given new powers on corporation tax and borrowing, in a Scotland Bill currently going through the British parliament.

But the first minister said he wanted Scotland to remain "close to our neighbours" whether or not it pulls out of the 300-year-old United Kingdom.

"We will continue to share a land mass, language, a wealth of experience and history, with the other peoples of these islands," he said.

"My dearest wish is to see the countries of Scotland and England stand together as equals. There's a difference between partnership and subordination."

Opinion polls have previously shown little support for Scotland's independence from the United Kingdom, which groups England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday an independence vote would be "retrograde".

"If the Scottish parliament wants to hold a referendum, I think that would be a retrograde step, but if they want to hold that referendum we have to grant that referendum," Cameron told the House of Commons.

"I would then want to join with everyone in this House and beyond who supports our United Kingdom to make sure we keep it together."

© 2011 AFP

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