Gloves are off after David Cameron and Alex Salmond start the clock on Scottish independence referendum

The Scottish and UK governments signed an historic agreement on an independence referendum today

A two-year campaign to win the hearts and minds of the Scottish people before they vote on whether to leave the United Kingdom began today after the Scottish and UK governments signed an historic agreement on an independence referendum.

David Cameron, who approved the deal in Edinburgh with Alex Salmond, the SNP First Minister, immediately dangled the prospect of further devolution if the country votes No to breaking its 305-year link with England since the 1707 Act of Union.  The Prime Minister made a clear attempt to stop the SNP pushing supporters of more devolution into the Yes camp after Mr Salmond dropped his idea of  having such a  “devo max” option on the ballot paper. 

The Coalition Government insisted on a single question. In return, Mr Salmond achieved his goals of delaying  the referendum until 2014 and for 16 and 17 year-olds to be allowed to vote.

Mr Cameron said: “All those who want to see not only the status quo but further devolution from the United Kingdom to Scotland must vote to stay within the United Kingdom.  Then it'll be for all the parties to decide what proposals to put forward, but I've always taken the view we have to answer this prior question first. We have to answer the question: does Scotland want to stay in the United Kingdom? If the answer is Yes we do want to stay in the United Kingdom, then obviously further devolution is possible.”

Denying that the UK Government had made more concessions in the negotiations than the SNP administration in Edinburgh, Mr Cameron said: “What we have is what I always wanted, which is one single question, not two questions, not devo max, a very simple single question that has to be put before the end of 2014 so we end the uncertainty, we put beyond doubt Scotland's position either within the UK, as I hope, or separating itself from the UK.”

Mr Salmond insisted the Yes campaign could turn round opinion polls putting the No camp ahead by “winning the argument” over the next two years.  “I believe we'll win it by setting out a positive vision for a better future for our country economically and also, crucially, socially,” he said.

The First Minister said today’s agreement  paved the way for the most important decision Scotland has made in several hundred years. “It is, in that sense, an historic day for Scotland and a major step forward in Scotland's home rule journey.”  He said the deal meant there would be “respect” for the outcome “whatever it is” and meant the SNP could now address the substantive arguments involved in devolution.

The pro-independence campaign faces an uphill struggle because polls in recent months showed an average 37 per cent of Scots in favour of a breakaway after “don’t knows” are excluded. John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said Mr Salmond needed to convince Scots they would enjoy “sunnier economic times” as a separate country. “Even amongst the three in 10 Scots who say they are ‘Scottish, not British’ only just over half (53 per cent) currently say that they want independence,” he  added. “Some 78 per cent of those who think the Scottish economy would be a lot better under independence are in favour of leaving the UK. However, at the moment almost as many people think Scotland’s economy would be worse under independence as believe it would be better.”

Downing Street insisted that allowing 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the Scottish referendum did not open the door for the same group to take part in future general elections – or even in the referendum on Britain’s relationship with the European Union floated by Mr Cameron.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “The Government certainly has no plans to change the voting age. The agreement being signed today is specific to the referendum. We are confident that there are no wider implications or precedents for elections, or indeed referendums, under UK electoral law.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Male Support Worker / Full Time Driver

£9464 - £12995 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will ne...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Product Development

£26000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Product Development departm...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing and Business Development Officer

£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hull based charity providing except...

Recruitment Genius: Part Time Female Support Worker

£9464 - £10396 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The successful applicant will ne...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future