Scotland politics

SNP conference 2015: Sturgeon says big election win may not lead to referendum

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Media captionIn full: Nicola Sturgeon interview with Laura Kuenssberg

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has told the BBC that even a "thumping win" at next year's Scottish elections would not be enough to push for a second referendum.

Earlier she had opened her party's Aberdeen conference calling on those against independence to vote SNP.

In an interview with the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Ms Sturgeon said she would judge whether "No" voters had changed their minds.

Ms Sturgeon is due to address her conference again on Saturday.

In her BBC interview, Scotland's first minister said: "That [winning next year's election] in and of itself I don't think makes another referendum inevitable because many people I hope - and I take nothing for granted - but I hope vote SNP who didn't support independence, who might not support independence yet, and who might never support independence."

Ms Sturgeon would not be drawn on whether a second referendum would take place while she was in charge.

Analysis by Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political editor

As the SNP dominates its rivals, Scotland's future in the UK does not feel remotely settled.

That's why it is impossible for her to escape the speculation about a potential date for another vote that would separate Scotland from the rest of the UK.

And that's why it matters that she told the BBC today for the first time, that the results of the Scottish elections next year will not be a trigger for another referendum.

So if it is not straightforward electoral success, what will it be? She has said repeatedly if the rest of the UK votes to leave the EU that could be a trigger for another vote.

But she and the rest of the leadership are not willing to set any other fixed tests, referring again and again to a "consistent and clear" shift in public opinion. In short - they'll only go for it when they think they can win.

Read more from Laura

Analysis by Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland political editor

As Ms Sturgeon delivered her conference opener in the hall, it was evident that passion still pays in terms of applause. They responded jubilantly to the suggestion that there were key drivers which could boost support for independence: further UK austerity, the replacement of Trident, above all British exit from the EU without Scottish consent.

Told that a referendum might well have to be deferred, the response was decidedly cooler. Not sullen, but solemn. Not the sort of thing they really want to hear, all things being equal.

Do I detect a significant insurrection against the Sturgeon line? I do not. Yes, there is some disquiet, mostly born of frustration that things are not other than they are. But most members understand the pragmatic strategy. What is more, they respect and adore their leader. For the most part, they will take her lead.

Read more from Brian

And on the timing of such a vote, she said: "It will be down to whether we judge, I judge, that people who voted 'No' last year have changed their minds."

Ms Sturgeon believed the SNP remained the best party to govern Scotland.

In her opening speech to the party faithful, the MSP said that if her party were to win a third term it would build 50,000 affordable homes, worth £3bn.

The conference in Aberdeen is the largest the SNP has held.

The SNP has enjoyed remarkable success since last year's referendum, winning all but three of Scotland's 59 seats in the general election earlier this year.

With fewer than seven months to go until voters elect representatives to the Scottish Parliament, she insisted the SNP was "also a party with another mission".

She told delegates: "There will, understandably, be significant interest in what our manifesto will say about independence.

"But let me make this clear: What matters just as much to me and to people across the country will be what it says about jobs and the economy, the safety of our communities, our hospitals and health centres, our schools, colleges and universities and our plans to use new powers to tackle poverty and inequality.

"On all of these issues and many, many more, our manifesto will set out radical, ambitious and progressive policies to make this country even stronger."

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Image caption The SNP is still in buoyant mood after its remarkable success in May's general election

Some 3,500 delegates have registered to attend the conference, along with almost 1,000 observers, exhibitors and journalists.

The party is now four times larger in terms of membership than it was on 18 September last year, when the independence referendum was held.

Opinion polls have suggested it holds huge leads over Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats in voting intentions ahead of next year's elections.

Ms Sturgeon told the conference: "In the general election in 2010, fewer than half a million people voted SNP. In the Scottish election a year later, our support grew to just over 900,000 votes.

"And in the general election this year, almost 1.5 million people chose our party.

"That's almost one million more people - in just five years and across all parts of our country - persuaded to put their trust in the SNP to lead Scotland forward."

The SNP will be "the strong, united and progressive opposition" to the Conservatives at Westminster that people across the UK "are crying out for", she said.

How's the atmosphere at conference?

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By BBC Scotland political report Philip Sim

Although not all of the 3,500 delegates had arrived by the time Nicola Sturgeon took to the stage to officially open the 2015 SNP conference, she was given a rapturous welcome.

Much of the early talk on stage and among delegates has been about the scale of this event, the biggest gathering of the SNP.

There is a certain measure of pride mixed in with the excitement apparent in the conference hall, with emphasis on the party's still-growing membership and healthy showing in the polls for next year's Holyrood elections.

Ms Sturgeon was keen to stress that her party was about more than just independence, even pitching to "No" voters during her opening speech.

And while the biggest cheer was uttered when she underlined her belief in independence, this diverse band of party supporters also seem to have embraced the wider policy platform.

There was standing room only at fringe events discussing everything from healthcare to executive pay, while crowds gathered around exhibition stalls promoting issues from Palestine to cancer research.

The conference so far is very much geared towards underlining how big the SNP has become - and how broad its interests and influence are.

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