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Nicola Sturgeon pledges to protect devolution's 'hard-won gains'

Deputy First Minister tells conference independence would protect free services in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon addressed SNP delegates at the party conference in Perth.

Free education, bus passes and personal care are among the incentives that Nicola Sturgeon has said will persuade Scots to vote for independence.

Addressing the SNP conference in Perth, the Deputy First Minister warned that devolution's "hard-won gains" were under threat from Labour and the Conservatives, while also promising that Scots would be £500 a year better off if they voted for independence.

Ms Sturgeon said independence would "guarantee" these services into the future, but she did not specify how far into the future this guarantee would last beyond a Yes vote.

On a day that a new poll suggested support for the UK has risen to 58%, with independence at 30%, Ms Sturgeon cited a previous poll which suggested nearly two-thirds of people would vote for independence if it made them £500 a year better off.

She told delegates: "The polls that I find most interesting are the polls that show a majority of our fellow Scots will vote for independence if they believe that independence will make them better off.

"Well, I believe that we can persuade our fellow Scots of that. As the First Minister said, better off to the tune of £500 for every man, woman and child in Scotland: that is the independence dividend, and it's our duty to tell people of that in the months and years to come."

She added: "The hard-won gains of devolution are under threat like they never have been before.

"We now know beyond any doubt that whether it is Labour or Tories in government, they want to take away free personal care from our older people.

"They want to take away free university education from working class kids who aspire to that education.

"They even want to take away the bus passes of our pensioners.

"We will protect all of these hard-won gains, but only independence will guarantee them in the future."

Ms Sturgeon also evoked the memory of the late Labour MSP Donald Dewar, Scotland's first First Minister and a chief architect of devolution, as she recounted the visit of Prime Minister David Cameron this week to hand the Scottish Parliament the legal power to hold the referendum in 2014.

"We welcomed a guest to Edinburgh on Monday," she said. "We were, I think, impeccable hosts. We shook hands, we give him a cup of tea, and I think we even offered him a biscuit.

"But most importantly, we got a signature that guarantees beyond any doubt the ability of this parliament to hold an independence referendum in the autumn of 2014.

"The late Donald Dewar, when he published the White Paper on devolution said, 'There shall be a Scottish Parliament' - the first words of the Scotland Act - and he said, 'I like that'.

"Well, now there will be an independence referendum. I really, really like that. The agreement has been signed. It is now game on."

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