SNP gives free vote on right to die bill

ALEX Salmond will allow MSPs a free vote on Margo Macdonald's controversial assisted suicide bill, reports suggested yesterday.

The First Minister is known to be opposed to the idea but feels it is a matter of personal conscience rather than party politics.

Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have previously said that they will let their MSPs make up their own minds on the issue.

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Macdonald, who is suffering from Parkinson's disease, has popular support for her proposed measures, despite opposition from the Catholic Church and other religious bodies.

Some 70 per cent of the Scottish public, an opinion poll found, back her End of Life Choices (Scotland) Bill, which went before parliament on Friday. It is not certain, however, whether she has the backing of MSPs.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said ministers would study the detail of the bill, which will be published after legal scrutiny early in January, before deciding on whether to whip MSPs on a party line.

But she added that "the likelihood is that they would support a free vote".

Salmond has previously said he is personally not convinced by Macdonald's arguments. Yesterday the former Nationalist MP said she hoped Salmond would change his mind when he saw the details of the bill and the safeguards they include to stop the proposed law being abused.

"I'm very much more optimistic than I was a year ago," she said yesterday. "I do believe that there is a tide running in this whole area. Certainly, the opinion polls all say that if it were up to the people it would go through. We just need to see if that feeds through to the MSPs who will vote on it."

A consultation on the bill prompted 450 responses, including some from groups vociferously opposed to any form of euthanasia.

Macdonald welcomed all views, saying: "I would not seek to prevent anyone making their views known.

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"I think it's quite a good thing because by having people hugely convinced of the rightness of their position argue that position, it forces the antithesis up a gear and you get a better quality of debate."