Alex Salmond has suggested a final deal on removing Trident nuclear submarines from an independent Scotland would be delayed until 2016, as he urged his party to seize the hour and win next year's referendum.
he first minister appeared to soften his stance on the immediate future of the Trident fleet, one of the most contentious issues in the independence debate, by suggesting its fate was conditional on the Scottish National party retaining power after independence was formally declared.
The SNP wants to officially declare independence in March 2016 after a deal with the rest of the UK on a new sterling currency union, splitting up the UK's debt and taking control of North Sea oil fields, followed by the first election to an independent Scottish parliament in May 2016.
But Salmond implied, for the first time, that the trigger for a final deal on removing Trident would come after an SNP victory in that election.
"The time period for their removal: once Scotland became independent and after, of course, people have elected their first government in an independent Scotland, but if it were to be an SNP government then we would ask the submarines to be removed from Scotland as soon as was safely possible," he said on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.
Scottish government officials insisted after the interview that Trident's removal from the river Clyde would be a central part of the independence talks immediately after a yes vote next September.
In his keynote address to this year's SNP conference on Saturday, Salmond said all his government's key policies for independence would be published in its white paper on independence on 26 November, four days before Scotland celebrates St Andrew's Day.
Delegates have been told the SNP would, in a bid to target lower wage voters, introduce a new minimum wage in line with inflation, take £70 off energy bills and scrap the bedroom tax after independence.
Salmond told a close-of-conference independence rally on Sunday that the yes campaign would win next September and overcome a wide deficit in the polls because the pro-independence movement was empowered by "trust, passion and commitment". It had "tens of thousands" of campaigners to send on to the streets.
An Ipsos Mori opinion poll last week showed the SNP government had a +24% approval rating, versus a -28% approval rating for the UK government. Converting that into support for independence would be their "ace card:" in next year's campaign, Salmond said, adding: "Next year is Scotland's day and Scotland's hour."
At the same rally, Blair Jenkins, chief executive of the pro-independence Yes Scotland campaign, repeatedly attacked MPs and peers at Westminster, saying the UK parliament was "utterly incapable of delivering social justice", which would be a priority in an independent Scotland. Westminster lacked the political will to combat fuel poverty, child poverty and the growth of food banks, he added.
In a reference to his previous roles as a senior BBC Scotland and STV news executive, Jenkins said: "Here is some really great news for the people of Scotland. If you are sick and fed up of the corrosive and cynical world of Westminster, then next year we can be rid of all of that. It really is that simple.
"Vote yes and we can say enough to the remote House of Commons and the ridiculous House of Lords: enough of the warmongers and the job-cutters; enough of the asset-strippers and the mortgage flippers; enough of the welfare bashers and the bedroom taxers."
Salmond's softer line on the future of Trident is significant for the independence talks. A longer timetable would allow both governments more time to prepare for a well-ordered withdrawal and relocation of Trident, giving ministers in Westminster more breathing space to consider their options after warning the Scottish government that joining Nato would be conditional on a full and mutually agreed settlement on Trident.
Angus Robertson, the SNP's defence spokesman and leader at Westminster, said Salmond was being consistent with government policy. "We would like to see talks taking place on this now to help prepare for a possible yes vote, as indeed the Westminster defence select committee recommended," he said.
"Trident would certainly be part of negotiations following a yes vote. Of course Trident could only be removed from Scotland once Scotland becomes an indy country, and SNP policy on that is clear, which is at the earliest possible safe moment."