First stage of independence talks ‘useful start’ says MP

Michale Moore in Chamber
Michale Moore in Chamber

Borders MP and Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore and Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond had their first meeting earlier this week to discuss the Scottish Government’s independence referendum.

Following the meeting, Mr Moore described the talks as a “useful start” although he said there is “still some way to travel” before the UK and Scottish Governments can reach agreement on the detail of the referendum.

Mr Salmond’s view of the meeting was that there was “some progress” but that there are still “key points of disagreement”.

Mr Moore said officials from both governments would now discuss the option of using a Section 30 Order, approved by the UK and Scottish Parliaments, in order to put the referendum on a proper legal footing. He added, however, that there were important issues such as the timing of the referendum and the need for a single question on the ballot paper and the franchise where the two governments do not agree.

Following the meeting in Edinburgh, Mr Moore said:“The talks were helpful and both sides are keen to sort out the referendum process as quickly as possible so that we can get on to the real debate on Scotland’s future.

“Having said that, this is the most important decision Scotland will ever make so we need to ensure the referendum is legal, fair and decisive.

“There is no question that we still have some way to travel to reach agreement on some important aspects of the referendum. I am still not convinced that the people of Scotland should have to wait nearly three years to have their say on independence. It is a long time until autumn 2014 and I am yet to hear a good reason why we should have to wait so long.

“I also believe that an independence referendum should be a straight question on independence. Whether Scotland should be part of the UK is the issue we are dealing with. I want the people of Scotland to be asked a straight question, fairly and clearly, whether Scotland should be independent or remain part of the UK.

“The UK Government is also not persuaded that we should start changing the referendum rules to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote. Our view is that the electorate that elects the Scottish Parliament should be the same one that votes in the referendum.

“It is in everyone’s interests that both of Scotland’s governments work together to agree a referendum that is legal, fair and decisive. We need a process and outcome that is fair for all of Scotland and that is what we’re committed to achieving.

“I am also urging Borderers to take part in the UK Government’s consultation on the referendum to make their views heard and ensure this is a referendum made in Scotland, for the people of Scotland.”

After the meeting the First Minister said: “The meeting saw some progress, but it also identified the key points of disagreement: one or two questions, and the issue of 16 and 17 year olds voting.

“It was useful to get clarification that the Westminster Government is willing to listen to its consultation on these matters, because the Scottish Government most certainly is. We are favourable to 16 and 17 year olds getting to vote, and we will listen to our consultation.

“I hope that once the consultation process is completed, that will enable us to come to agreement. The voice of the people is key in getting a resolution.

“On the question of the section 30, we have no difficulty with the process. Our difficulty is with the conditionality - the strings attached. If the argument is to offer a section 30 to enable the Scottish Parliament to have a direct question on independence, which is beyond legal challenge that would tend to support the view of the Electoral Reform Society that the section 30 should be offered without strings attached.

“There are different views on the timescales, but no serious argument.”