Alex Salmond, Scotland’s nationalist first minister, said he aims to call a referendum on independence from the U.K. in the fall of 2014, a year that will see the 700th anniversary of the Scots’ defeat of the English at the Battle of Bannockburn.
He made the announcement today as Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary in the U.K.’s coalition government, set out plans to give Salmond the power to hold the vote, provided he agreed to accept limits on his powers over its timing and the wording of the question.
In a statement to House of Commons lawmakers in London, Moore said the 1998 Scotland Act, which created a Parliament in Edinburgh with powers over some domestic areas, states that any act passed by that body that relates to the 305-year-old union between England and Scotland is “not law.” Moore proposed making an order, in agreement with Salmond, allowing a one-off, time-limited transfer of powers and said the vote should be held “sooner rather than later.” Salmond rejected that.
“What Scotland objects to is all the strings they’re trying to attach to it,” the first minister told Sky News television. “They’re trying to run the referendum by proxy. This is the biggest decision for Scotland for 300 years. This has to be a referendum which is built in Scotland, made in Scotland, goes through the Scottish Parliament and then is determined by the good sense of the Scottish people.”
The clash between U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and Salmond, who has dominated Scottish politics for 20 years, threatens to overshadow British politics until the vote takes place.
The union between England and Scotland in 1707 created the country that dominated the world for more than a century, with Scotland providing many of the soldiers, industrialists, politicians and thinkers who helped build the British Empire. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is Scottish, and his predecessor, Tony Blair, was born in Edinburgh.
An Ipsos-Mori poll last month found almost two-thirds of Scots wanted the referendum called before 2014 and that 38 percent supported independence, against 57 percent who opposed it. The company polled 1,001 Scots between Dec. 1 and Dec. 4.
Moore said the government wants to give the Scottish Parliament the power to hold a referendum by an unspecified deadline, as long as it is a yes-or-no question, overseen by the U.K. Electoral Commission. All three main U.K. political parties oppose independence.
‘Most Important Decision’
“This is the most important decision we as Scots will make in our lifetimes,” Moore said. “It’s essential that the referendum is legal, fair and decisive.”
Moore gave no details on the timings he had in mind. He said suggestions of a deadline of 18 months “isn’t the position of the government.”
Under the government’s proposals, an order would be made in the U.K. Parliament in London, requiring the agreement of lawmakers in Edinburgh, that would give the Scottish Parliament the power to call the vote as long as it abided by certain conditions. Other options open to Cameron’s government include passing a bill to hold the referendum itself. The Scotland Office said a referendum called by the Edinburgh Parliament would be open to legal challenge in the U.K.’s Supreme Court, which would be likely to block it.
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