The infamous "parcel o' rogues" immortalised in verse by Robert Burns were the members of the then independent Scottish Parliament who were seen to sell their nation's sovereignty for financial reward. That of course was in the early 18th century, long before any concept of true democracy or a popular mandate emanating from a free and fair election.
Fortunately, times have changed, and we no longer risk the prospect of politicians trampling on the democratic will of the people. The ham-fisted antics of David Cameron and George Osborne in recent days will, I have no doubt whatsoever, only increase support for independence.
Let's first address the issue of legality. The leading textbook on Scottish constitutional law confirms the Scottish Government's long-held position that a consultative referendum is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament.
The fact that the referendum we propose would be advisory is nothing new, incidentally – we have always been perfectly clear that it would be a consultative and advisory poll, as indeed are normally all referendums conducted in the United Kingdom, including last year's Westminster-run poll on the proposed introduction of the Alternative Vote.
What matters of course is the political legitimacy and moral authority which flows from such an advisory referendum. If the independence referendum is to be a legally binding poll, then it would require Westminster and Holyrood to pass a so-called Section 30 order under the Scotland Act. We have absolutely no difficulty with such a proposal.The objection is that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and others have been determined in recent days to attach their own strings to such an order, and dictate the terms of Scotland's referendum from London.
Indeed, the behaviour of the Tory-led Government has been nothing short of Thatcheresque in its cack-handedness. Just as Mrs Thatcher catastrophically misread Scottish opinion and ensured that she and her party would reap a political whirlwind from which they have never recovered north of the border, Mr Cameron embarked, at least initially, on a similarly disastrous course.
Support for independence has been rising steadily since the re-election of the Scottish Government with such an overwhelming mandate. But I have no doubt that the events of the last 72 hours are only going to increase that support. Because, whatever people's views on independence, there is nothing more guaranteed to antagonise the average person in Scotland than a Tory Prime Minister lecturing the democratically elected Government of Scotland on how a fair referendum should be run – not least given the fact there are now fewer Tory MPs in Scotland than there are giant pandas!
The date of autumn 2014 which the Scottish Cabinet has now agreed for the referendum is right because it gives the right amount of time for proper consideration of such a historic decision. Now that we have announced the date, the anti-independence parties should accept this reasonable timetable, and cease their false claims about Scotland's economy.
There is now certainty about the date, and, in any case, the Unionist claims have been shown to be entirely bogus. The UK director general of the Institute of Directors, Simon Walker, has said he is "relaxed" about the possibility of Scotland becoming independent, and the executive director of the IoD in Scotland, David Watt, has said he doesn't think the referendum makes any difference to business – a view echoed by Scotland's leading entrepreneur, Jim McColl. Recent analysis published by Financial Times Research shows that Scotland is the "most prosperous" part of the UK outside London and the South East of England, in terms of the 12 nations and regions of the UK. Scotland's economic output (Gross Value Added per head of population in 2010) is 99 per cent of the UK average. The highest is London at 171 per cent, and the lowest is Wales at 74 per cent.
Taking all Scottish revenues and spending into account – including financial sector interventions – the official Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland statistics show Scotland has run a current budget surplus in four of the five years to 2009/10, while the UK was in current budget deficit in each of these years, and hasn't run a current budget surplus since 2001/02.
North Sea oil tax revenues are in fact set to generate £54bn in the six years up to 2016/17 – as much wealth as in the previous six years – and Scotland needs access to our own resources with independence and financial responsibility in order to boost growth, recovery, and jobs.
The reality is, as the evidence shows, that some of the world's biggest companies are voting with their feet by bringing jobs and investment to Scotland. The threat to jobs, investment and prosperity for Scotland comes, not from the promise of self-determination, but from Cameron, Osborne and Clegg's disastrous economic policies.
As with so many other aspects of this issue, the anti-independence cabal's claims are riddled with hypocrisy. Not least on the question of votes for 16- and 17-year-olds, who we have suggested should be able to vote in the independence referendum, prompting howls of protest from the Unionists. That is despite Nick Clegg being on the record as saying he is "a big supporter of votes at 16", while Labour MPs, including Ed Miliband, Douglas Alexander and Margaret Curran, all voted for 16- and 17-year- olds on the electoral roll to vote in the AV referendum.Scotland's young adults have a big stake in the future of our nation.
And Scotland's constitutional future needs to be seen in a bigger, global context. The UN initially comprised just 51 independent nations. Today, that figure has risen to more than 190. Meanwhile, the last big expansion of the EU in 2004 saw the admission of 10 new members – six of them smaller than Scotland and six which had become independent since 1990.
An independent Scotland with access to all our nation's resources will be the sixth most prosperous nation in the OECD league table – compared with the UK's number 16 placing. Globalisation has gone hand in hand with a growing desire for nations to take responsibility for their own affairs. Joining the family of nations as an independent and equal nation will see Scotland completing its home rule journey.
Alex Salmond is the First Minister of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish National Party
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