Dubai: Scottish nationalists have hailed their performance in the Scottish Parliament elections as the largest step towards independence for 300 years.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) now has 47 seats at the 129-seat Holyrood Parliament - one more than the Labour Party, which had been the largest party since the parliament began sitting in 1999.

The SNP's potential coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, have warned however they will not help the nationalists form a government if the SNP insists on fulfilling its pledge of holding a referendum on independence.

Stewart Stevenson, re-elected as the SNP Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for Banff and Buchan, told Gulf News: "We're on the brink of being in government and we've made the most substantial step towards independence since 1707, which saw the ending of the first Scottish Parliament."

Stevenson said "opinion poll after opinion poll" showed that Scots were in favour of a referendum on independence, although he said the timing of any such referendum was up for discussion.

"I am sure there will be a referendum. The issue is when that referendum is. To some extent that will depend on the coalition. 2010 has always been our target date, but we'll have to see when it happens," he said.

Mike Rumbles MSP, one of 16 Liberal Democrats to be elected to the Scottish Parliament, played down the possibility of a referendum.

"As far as we're concerned, this is not a step towards independence. There certainly isn't going to be a referendum," he told Gulf News.

He said it was "possible but not as high as a probability" that the Lib Dems would form a joint administration with the SNP - as long as the latter did not insist on a referendum.

If the SNP did insist on a referendum, he added, there was "absolutely no question" the Lib Dems would refuse to form a joint administration.

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