Scots Wha Hae!

Scots Wha Hae! The battle for independence

This much is now clear: Scotland will get a vote on separation and it will be in late 2014. All else is up for grabs

The Scots and the English share many things, but a sense of humour is not always one of them. As the Scottish National Party's ruling body met on Friday at the end of a tumultuous week for the nation, one senior member ventured his own suggestion for resolving the new problem presented by an agitated Prime Minister down at Westminster.

Click here to launch our Q&A graphic on Scottish independence

"Maybe we should organise a whip-round," he told the SNP's National Executive Committee (NEC), "so we can pay for David Cameron to fly up here and help out the independence campaign a bit more."

This dry suggestion captures the disconnect between Holyrood and Westminster over the latest twist in the saga of Scottish independence. In London, the Prime Minister and his colleagues are jubilant over his achievement in "calling Salmond out" on a definite timescale for a referendum; in Scotland the Nats point to the coalition's concession of a legally binding referendum.

Above all, however, Mr Salmond faces the prospect of having a Conservative leader bogeyman in London bolstering his cause. His many indignant references to "a Tory Prime Minister in London" culminated, on Friday, with an official invitation to Mr Cameron and his deputy, Nick Clegg, for independence talks in Scotland. The dramatic – and very public – gesture contrasted sharply with the Scotland Secretary's written invitation to the First Minister, revealed yesterday, for talks on the referendum on Thursday in Edinburgh – "to try to get things moving".

The uncomfortable fact for the Prime Minister is that in the – for him unfathomable – world of Scottish politics, the more he opposes independence the more likely Scotland will be to support it.

It had all been so different last weekend, when Mr Cameron launched into the independence debate with the enthusiasm of a man honouring a January resolution. Most significantly, the PM said: "I think, frankly, that a referendum on Scotland in the United Kingdom, sooner rather than later, would be a better thing than this uncertainty continuing."

Mr Cameron's sudden ardour was, his closest aides say, part of a long-term plan to stop Scotland "sleepwalking into independence". However, while Tories interpreted his intervention as a masterstroke that forced Mr Salmond on to the back foot, behind the scenes not everyone in the Government was so sure. In particular, the insistence on an 18-month deadline for a vote went further than planned. "The PM went off a bit half-cocked on Sunday," confessed a Whitehall source. "There was some mopping up to be done."

Mr Salmond's initial response was scornful. While the Scottish government's response to Mr Cameron's attack was straight from the SNP playbook – Westminster was "trying to interfere in Scottish democracy" – it was delivered not by the First Minister but his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon.

Within 24 hours, however, Mr Salmond had been forced to follow Westminster's lead and confirm plans to hold an independence referendum in 2014. While the SNP maintained that the announcement merely firmed up what they had previously suggested, their opponents insisted that Mr Cameron had forced the First Minister into a corner and extracted the promise. "While Salmond had control over the 'what' and 'when', he held all the cards," said one minister. "Now we have a seat at the table and he'll have to enter a debate on a more equal basis."

The coalition is gambling that support for independence will remain in the minority – currently below 40 per cent – up to the referendum and the issue will be killed off for a generation. The real risk is the lingering possibility that the Scots will vote "yes" to leaving the UK – or that they somehow get the chance to vote on new powers short of independence. "Devo max", increased powers for Scotland, emerged as Mr Salmond's best chance of emerging from a referendum with some form of victory – and more power. Mr Cameron insists that he will not countenance anything other than a single-question, yes/no vote on independence. But in consenting to a binding referendum he may have started a process, rather than ended it.

SNP sources confirmed that they would argue the case for a multi-option referendum including devo max. "They have the overall legal power, but we have the moral authority," one said. "I would like to see Mr Cameron try to impose a referendum on the Scottish people in the way he has tried to dictate the agenda this week."

It is a telling observation. If the coalition demands a yes/no vote, the SNP will brand it "Westminster's referendum" and thus maximise their chances of victory. If they lose, they will declare the result invalid and hold their own consultative referendum. However it happens, devo max appears the most likely option for Scotland's future.

Westminster is already marshalling its forces against Mr Salmond's march out of the UK, not least through briefings that warn of dire consequences for an independent Scotland. The outline of a cross-party "no" campaign is also starting to emerge. Even the most ardent Tory will admit the pro-Union movement "will not be led or fronted by Cameron and Osborne". Instead they will call in Labour big beasts and Lib Dems, but also business, which is more anti-independence than the public.

The SNP have transformed themselves under Mr Salmond. The party has also benefited from increasingly nationalistic – and anti-English – sentiments. The Scottish composer James MacMillan said yesterday: "There is a kind of accepted orthodoxy here that the Scots are not racist in the ways that the English can be. The SNP need this reservoir of anti-Englishness to power their secessionist agenda."

"This is High Noon," said former Lib Dem leader Lord Ashdown. "Only one of these two men is going to be standing at the end of this. David Cameron cannot continue as Prime Minister of the UK if he loses, and in my view Alex Salmond cannot carry on as First Minister of Scotland if he loses."

However elated Mr Cameron and his allies are over the accomplishment of the first week of their Scottish mission, Mr Salmond is far from crushed by the UK establishment. In Scotland, his reputation has been enhanced, and it will be Scottish voters who ultimately pick the winner.

The view North of the border: 'Where will the Pied Piper really lead us?'

"The 'status quo' is probably not sustainable, and I would support more autonomy being extended northwards. However, there are too many economic uncertainties in Europe to be going it alone right now, and most Scots will recognise this."

Clive Fairweather; Former SAS colonel

"We should aim for full independence. Scotland should go it alone if there are tax benefits for companies to work and be based in Scotland to generate revenue and low unemployment."

Sonia Scott Mackay; Model and owner of a Glasgow talent agency

"I think 'devo max' is a good solution. It means that Scotland retains a sense of independence without becoming vulnerable on the global stage. In a referendum I would vote for whichever option benefits the people rather than politicians."

Serah Kimuyu; Acting general manager for a charity in Falkirk

"Alex 'the Pied Piper' Salmond is fusing 700 years of anti-English sentiment with an almost primordial desire for 'national freedom'. The pipings of the flute sound so fine, but to where will Scotland's people really be led?"

Pen Hadow; Polar explorer and motivational speaker

"I consider myself a Scottish citizen and also contribute to the Scottish economy and social life. I think Scotland is capable of running the country by itself and making its own decisions."

Ahlam Souidi; Scottish/Algerian woman living in Glasgow

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own