The biggest political decision in a lifetime

Michael Moore
Michael Moore

when will the people in Scotland be asked their views on independence, and what question/questions will be put to them?

Both these questions were discussed at Westminster and Holyrood on Tuesday, and the gulf between the two parliaments could not have been wider.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond insists that after their resounding election victory last year the SNP have a mandate from the Scottish people to set the agenda - when the referendum will be held and what options will be put to the electorate.

In Westminster, Secretary of State for Scotland, and Borders MP Michael Moore made it clear that the power to set the agenda, and therefore the only legal route for a referendum, remained with the Westminster Government.

Announcing that there will be full consultation on how to hold the referendum on Scottish independence, the Lib Dem minister told MPs: “The consultation paper sets out different ways to deliver a legal, fair and decisive referendum.

“It explains how the powers for a referendum could be devolved under the Section 30 order-making provisions in the Scotland Act 1998 - our preferred approach.”

Mr Moore added: “It is essential that the referendum is legal, fair and decisive.

“It also invites views on devolving the powers using other legislation, including the current Scotland Bill, and for opinions on the possibility of running the referendum directly.

“Given the clear legal problem that exists, we want to work with the Scottish government to provide the answer.

“This is not about the mandates of Scotland’s two governments, or who calls the shots. It is about empowering the people of Scotland to participate in a legal referendum.

“That means that the UK government is willing to give the Scottish Parliament the powers to hold a referendum which they otherwise cannot do legally.”

Mr Moore said the UK government was not suggesting a date for the poll in its consultation but it would recommend a single Yes or No question - rather than a third option which has been suggested by the SNP involving increased financial powers for the Scottish government short of full independence.

“Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom will be the most important decision we as Scots take in our lifetime,” said Mr Moore.

On the same day that Mr Moore announced the referendum consultation process in Westminster, Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond announced that they would hold a referendum on independence in the autumn of 2014, and that they had a mandate from the Scottish people to set the agenda and date.

The UK Government want the referendum to be sooner rather than later arguing that the uncertainty is damaging the country at a time when the economy is already fragile; whereas the SNP Government want to leave it as late as possible in their term of office as all indications at the moment are that the vote would be against full independence.

Mr Salmond said: “Let’s have a referendum that’s made in Scotland, built in Scotland, proposed by a Scottish Parliament and left to the good judgement of the people of Scotland.”

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP John Lamont (Conservative) said: ““Alex Salmond has buckled under pressure from the UK Government and been forced to announce a date for the referendum. The consultation launched by the Coalition is now a chance for us to debate the specifics of the referendum and what the exact details of it shall be.

“It is vitally important that there is a single and decisive ‘yes or no’ question, and that it is overseen by an experienced body such as the Electoral Commission. This would ensure a fair, legal and decisive vote and Alex Salmond can have no objection to that.

“We have a historic decision to make in the coming months and it is important that it is made by the Scottish people, and not held up for years in Scottish courts.”

Jim Hume, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for South Scotland, also called into question the SNP’s credibility after what he described as the partisan handling of Scotland’s constitutional future.

Mr Hume said: “Since the election in May, the SNP have been promoting their independence agenda to the detriment of key domestic issues facing people in Scotland, and have created more economic uncertainty in already extremely difficult financial circumstances.

“The SNP continue to play the blame game with UK Ministers, whilst they know fine that if they held a YES/NO referendum tomorrow they would lose outright.

“Their partisan handling of Scotland’s constitutional future has put the SNP’s credibility on a shoogly peg.”