Salmond launches consultation on independence referendum

25 Jan 12
The Scottish Government yesterday revealed the question that it plans to ask in Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum: ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’
By Keith Aitken in Edinburgh | 26 January 2012

The Scottish Government yesterday revealed the question that it plans to ask in Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum: ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’

First Minister Alex Salmond told UK and international journalists gathered in the Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle: ‘We want to see a society which has compassion at its heart. We offer malice towards nobody. We offer friendship to all.’

The consultation paper setting out the pathway to the referendum revealed that Scottish ministers have moved some way to meet concerns at Westminster over the conduct of the poll. Salmond told MSPs: ‘The most important decision by the people of Scotland in 300 years must be beyond reproach.’

As part of that, the Scottish government has accepted in principle calls for the poll to be regulated by the UK Electoral Commission and run subject to a Westminster order under Section 30 of the Scotland Act. This would grant Holyrood the power to consult the voters on the reserved matter of constitutional change.

The effect of the order would be to forestall a court challenge to the legitimacy of the outcome, a prospect neither government relishes. But the consultation paper makes clear that the Scottish Government remains prepared to ‘go it alone’ on a Holyrood-run consultative referendum if London tries to attach unacceptable strings.

It invites views on several potentially contentious issues, such as the Scottish Government’s wish to extend the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds. More importantly, it asks Scots whether they want a second question on the ballot paper, offering the ‘devo-max’ option of full fiscal autonomy within the UK. 

Salmond reiterated his Scottish National Party’s formal preference for a single question – which is shared by the Labour and Conservative parties – although some in the SNP believe that devo-max offers a popular route to near-independence. A UK government consultation on the referendum also seeks views on a second question.

Under questioning at the press conference, Salmond said he would consult the Electoral Commission on the proposed wording of the independence question and was confident it would pass the commission’s test of simplicity and clarity. But he added: ‘Whatever else happens, that question will most certainly be on the ballot paper.’

Negotiations aimed at gaining the UK coalition government’s agreement to a Section 30 order were due to begin in talks between Salmond and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore tomorrow, with Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to join in later. Moore, however, has chickenpox and the talks look unlikely to begin until next week.

24 January 2012 | Iain Macwhirter

What will be the outcome of the independence referendum now scheduled to take place in autumn 2014? Is the Union finished after 300 years? Will the Scottish National Party persuade Scots that their nation would be better off standing on its own feet, living off its wits, in the global market?

What is beyond doubt is that this will be a close fought contest, and that the decision will have to be made in Scotland, by Scots. Any further attempts to impose timetables or to attach conditions will be counter-productive to the unionist cause. A great deal can happen in the next 1,000 days – but I think the chances of the Union surviving in its present form are remote...

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