Alex Salmond unveils Scottish referendum question


First Minister Alex Salmond today unveiled his plans for a "straightforward" vote on independence which could see Scotland leave the United Kingdom.

Mr Salmond launched the Scottish Government's consultation on a £10 million referendum at Holyrood.

He told MSPs the question that would be put to voters would be "short, straightforward and clear".

The Scottish Government proposes asking Scots: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?".

Mr Salmond said the period in the run-up to the independence vote would be the "most exciting in Scotland's modern history".

He stated: "At the end of that period, in autumn 2014, people the length and breadth of our country will have their say in Scotland's independence referendum.

"Independence, in essence, is based on a simple idea: the people who care most about Scotland, that is the people who live, work and bring up their families in Scotland, should be the ones taking the decisions about our nation's future.

"No-one else is going to do a better job of making Scotland a success. No-one else has the same stake in our future. The people of Scotland should be in charge."

As well as the question on independence, Mr Salmond said the ballot could include the option of greatly-enhanced powers for Holyrood.

He argued if there was "wide support" for the so-called devo max option, it was "only fair and democratic" it be included.

"The Scottish Government's position is for independence," Mr Salmond said.

"Therefore, that option will appear on the ballot paper in a straightforward manner."

However, he added: "If there is an alternative of maximum devolution which would command wide support in Scotland, then it is only fair and democratic that option should be among the choices open to the people of Scotland.

"We will not, as the UK Government seems to want, eliminate that choice simply because it might be popular."

While UK elections are traditionally held on a Thursday, the consultation raises the possibility of having the referendum on a Saturday to help boost turnout.

The Scottish Government also proposes extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader said: "It is right that our young people should have the chance to play their part in decisions about their community and their country.

"If a 16-year-old in Scotland can register to join the Army, get married and pay taxes, surely he or she should be able to have a say in this country's constitutional future?"

The consultation proposes using elections watchdog the Electoral Commission to regulate the referendum.

But Labour claimed its role was being diluted by the SNP, with shadow Scottish secretary Margaret Curran stating: "At present, the Electoral Commission has to rule on the wording of the question on the ballot paper because it is a point of principle that it shouldn't be for politicians alone to pick.

"Alex Salmond's proposal to strip the Electoral Commission of its legal responsibility to rule on the question will fuel suspicion and is simply not acceptable."

She added: "It is completely wrong to agree to a neutral referee but then stop it doing its most important job.

"Watering down the role of the watchdog is simply not democratic."

The consultation proposes spending caps for the referendum campaign, suggesting designated lead campaign organisations spend no more than £750,000 and a maximum £250,000 for political parties in the Scottish Parliament.

If Scots voted for independence, negotiations would then take place between Holyrood and Westminster on ending the union.

Mr Salmond said there would then be a "more modern relationship between the nations of these islands - a partnership of equals".

However, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said the consultation paper did "little for those who fear this process is not a fair one".

She said: "The First Minister asserts as truth his own view of the future of Scotland, and misrepresents the position of those who want to remain in the United Kingdom."

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said Scots both wanted and deserved a "fair, legal and decisive referendum, held as soon as possible".

She said: "What the First Minister posited today is a fair and decisive legal question, which I welcome. What we now need to ensure is that it is asked in a legal referendum."

The UK Government insists that the Scottish Government does not have the authority to stage an independence ballot.

It has already launched a consultation on its proposal, with the offer of Holyrood having its powers temporarily extended to allow it to hold a vote on the country's constitutional future.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said there was "much to welcome" in the Scottish Government's consultation.

He stated: "The Scottish Government has stated its preference for a 'short, direct question about independence', just as the UK Government supports a single decisive question.

"Both agree on the role of the Electoral Commission in providing a fair process and the Scottish Government also recognise the fact that Westminster has a key role to play in this issue in terms of ensuring the legality of any referendum.

"This is a good base to build on as we listen to the views of people across Scotland and further afield."

He again stated the UK Government's view that the SNP administration lacks the legal power to hold an independence referendum.

Mr Moore argued: "Any attempt to pass legislation for either an independence or 'devo-max' referendum would be outside the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament and liable to legal challenge.

"We have made it clear that we think the Scottish Government would lose such a challenge."

He continued: "The UK Government still believes that it is in the interests of the Scottish people and economy to have a referendum sooner rather than later.

"But we also agree that this is the biggest decision facing Scotland in 300 years and there is no better argument for making it fair, legal and decisive.

"I will be discussing all of these points with the First Minister when I meet him in the near future, and I look forward to what I think should be a constructive meeting."

Mr Salmond and Mr Moore had been due to have talks on the referendum on Friday. However, these have had to be cancelled after the Scottish Secretary contracted chickenpox.