British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government announced it would give the devolved Scottish parliament temporary powers to hold the vote on whether to end the 300-year-old union with England.
The government in London said the vote should be as soon as possible because uncertainty about the issue was harming Scotland’s economy, and said it would be illegal for the Scottish parliament to go it alone.
But Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond – who commentators say is keen to stall the vote in order to build support for independence – said the decisions should be left to the people of Scotland.
“The date we should have this referendum should be the autumn of 2014,” Salmond said.
“The date will allow people to hear all the arguments and make sure that all the political processes will be complete.”
The proposed date of 2014 coincides with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a famous Scottish victory over the English, but Salmond dismissed claims the timing was deliberate as “stuff and nonsense”.
In elections last May, the Scottish National Party led by Salmond won the first overall majority in the Edinburgh parliament since it opened in 1999, and promised to hold a referendum on independence.
His comments on Tuesday set up a possible constitutional clash with Cameron’s government, though Salmond, while a canny politician, does not yet have the support in polls for a break with England.
The Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, said in a statement to parliament that while the government believed the United Kingdom should remain intact, there should still be a “legal, fair and decisive referendum”.
“The UK government is willing to give the Scottish government the powers to hold a referendum which they otherwise cannot do legally,” Moore said. –AFP