Independent Scotland's first parliamentary elections in 2016: First Minister

EDINBURGH (AFP) - Scotland will hold its first elections for an independent Parliament in 2016 if voters opt to leave the United Kingdom in a referendum next year, First Minister Alex Salmond said on Saturday.

Addressing the annual conference of his Scottish National Party, Mr Salmond said he would overturn key British government policies including the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail and the so-called "bedroom tax" if Scotland achieves independence.

Mr Salmond also challenged British Prime Minister David Cameron, of the Conservative party, to take part in a head-to-head television debate before the referendum on Sept 18, 2014.

"We intend to win this referendum," Mr Salmond said to applause from the delegates in Perth, Scotland. "We are Scotland's independence generation and our time is now."

Opinion polls currently show that only a third of Scotland's 5.5 million-strong population are planning to vote in favour of independence.

But Mr Salmond said voting yes to independence "will be above all an act of self confidence and act of self belief". He said the Scottish government's white paper setting out its platform on independence would be published on Nov 26.

The paper would include plans to hold the "first elections for an independent Scottish Parliament in the spring of 2016".

He said the "first act of an independent Scotland" would be to scrap the so-called bedroom tax introduced by Mr Cameron's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, under which welfare payments are cut for public housing tenants who are deemed to have a spare bedroom.

The United Nations' special rapporteur on housing in September called on Britain to scrap the bedroom tax, saying it had a "shocking" impact on the poor.

Mr Salmond said an independent Scotland would also scrap the controversial part-privatisation of British postal operator Royal Mail.

Shares of Royal Mail shares have surged from their offer price of 330 pence since their stock market debut on Oct 11, leading to questions about whether it was undervalued.

Mr Salmond meanwhile issued the latest in a series of challenges to Mr Cameron to debate the independence issue with him.

"Step up to the plate or step out of the debate," said Mr Salmond, to applause from the party delegates.

Mr Salmond brought the SNP to power as Scotland's devolved regional government, first as a minority administration in 2007 and then winning a sweeping majority in 2011.

He says that ending the more than 300-year-old union between England and Scotland would benefit his homeland.