PETE Wishart has said the SNP should not shy away from looking at federalism as a step towards independence.

Speaking at an Institute Economic Affairs conference event on the “economic myths and opportunities” of Scottish independence, the veteran MP welcomed a new report by the think tank looking at a “new constitutional settlement” for the UK.

“There’s so much nonsense spoken about federalism,” he said. “This idea that somehow Scotland would be equal to some region of England in terms of a federal solution across the UK is totally, utterly unacceptable to this party.

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“But any proposal for an international, federal UK is, I think, something we should welcome and treat as part of that conversation about the future of this country.”

He also said the Yes side in the 2014 referendum had let the No side get away with “presenting the case, substantially, that economically rich Scotland, resource rich Scotland, Scotland that has so many fantastic economic opportunities, would somehow fail as an independent country”.

“Somehow we have let the Unionists get away this, and we must never ever allow this to happen again,” he said. “We must start to redesign and recharter our economic case for independence that starts by saying what a wonderful country this is, how economically prosperous we are, the fact that we are in the top 30 per capita when it comes to economic input, that our productivity is through the roof, and record high employment and record high unemployment, and this is successful nation.”

He made clear later that independence would still be the lifeboat attached to the good ship UK heading for the Brexit iceberg. “Let’s get on board on that lifeboat and row it as fast as possible to the shores of sanity,” he said.

It was the first time the influential right-wing think-tank had come to SNP conference, and party members packed the room to take part in one of the few debates about independence during the three-day gathering.

Also on the panel was National columnist and former MP George Kerevan, who said winning would come from being honest about the challenges of independence.

“I think if we tell the Scots – and we Scots have a long and proud tradition of rolling their sleeves up, of being communitarian, working together and achieving goals – I think if we tell them we can build a better country, we can build a working country, not one based on debt, debt that’s going to explode in our faces across the Western world in the next ten years, then I think we have a better chance of mobilising this movement we have for independence”.

Kirsty Blackman said the Yes movement needed to think outside the box as a small country, and show how the different priorities of Scotland could raise revenue: “There’s been a big change in the customs in recent years by the UK Government. What they did was merge the border force and the customs and they had all the officials pretty much keep an eye on the border force part of it.

“So all the officials dealing with people and goods coming in and out are pretty focussed on people making sure that people don’t come in who aren’t supposed to be here. They’re not focussing on getting the right tax from all the goods that are coming in to our country.

“Now, if we were an independent country we would be focussed on ensuring that those people importing or exporting pay the correct tax.

“You can actually generate revenue on that.”

Commentator David Torrance was given a frosty reception. He said the Yes movement needed to move away from contesting GERS and contesting that there was a gap between what is spent of public services and what is raised through taxes.

He said someone from Better Together had told him their internal research, conducted two years before the first referendum, showed support for independence at more than 70 per cent if people could be guaranteed having the same living standards on the first day of independence as they had on the last day of the Union.

“I think the party would benefit enormously from moving away from casting doubt on the veracity of the figures, and actually just accepting it and moving on from there. That’s crucial in the next few years.”

Wishart disagreed, but said the SNP had been “complicit” when talking about GERS in 2014.

“We now know how flawed this data and material is,” he said. “26 per cent of the assumptions around income tax are based on estimates, they are not reliable. “We cannot rely on them any further for thinking on how we design our future independent Scotland.”