Salmond to pursue referendum Bill
By David Scott in Edinburgh
3 December 2009
First Minister Alex Salmond has vowed to press ahead with his controversial referendum Bill on independence for Scotland after rejecting opposition parties’ claims that it is a ‘multimillion-pound white elephant’.
Following the publication of a white paper, Your Scotland, your voice, on November 30 – St Andrew’s Day – Salmond confirmed that he planned to publish a Bill early next year.
But there is virtually no chance of the Bill becoming law or of a referendum taking place within a year, which is what Salmond has proposed.
The minority Scottish National Party administration needs the support of opposition parties, and they have pledged to vote it down.
According to the 176-page paper, the Scottish Government is considering four options before deciding which questions should be included in the referendum.
Apart from independence, the options include: the status quo; a more powerful Scottish Parliament based on the recommendations of the Calman Commission, which have already been accepted by the UK government; and ‘maximum devolution’ – a Parliament with control over all taxes and benefits but staying part of the UK.
Salmond said the debate in Scottish politics was no longer between change or no change. He added: ‘It’s about the kind of change we seek and the right of the people to choose their future in a free and fair referendum.’
He attempted to win over rival parties by proposing to include other options to outright independence and offering to change the exact date of the referendum – currently planned for St Andrew’s Day, 2010.
However, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats declared that they would vote against the Bill.
Labour accused the first minister of being out of touch with voters. ‘It’s a multimillion -pound referendum white elephant. Alex Salmond is out of touch with Scotland,’ said Labour leader Iain Gray.
The Tories described the referendum, costed at up to £12m, as a ‘complete waste of public resources’, while the Liberal Democrats claimed the SNP was trying to impose independence on Scotland ‘when it is neither what Scotland wants nor needs’.
The white paper, while setting out the other options, makes it clear that the Scottish Government’s favoured option is full independence – giving Scotland control over areas such as the economy, all taxation, defence and foreign affairs.
Salmond conceded other people had different views but stressed that it was ‘now time for the voice of the people to be heard in the referendum on Scotland’s future’.