Cameron denies 'dictating' terms of Scottish referendum


The future of Scotland should be decided by the Scottish people, says Nicola Sturgeon

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David Cameron has said he is not trying to "dictate" the terms of a Scottish independence referendum.

Government sources have denied reports Westminster would set an 18-month limit on holding the poll, if it transfers powers for a binding vote to Holyrood.

But ministers may insist on a "yes or no" vote on independence - without the option of more powers for Scotland.

Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused Westminster of "trying to interfere in Scottish democracy".

But Mr Cameron said he wanted the vote to be "legal, fair and decisive".

Advisory only

The Scottish National Party has pledged to hold a referendum in the latter half of its term, with 2014 thought to be the preferred date.

The UK government is expected to say that Scotland can hold a referendum on any subject it chooses but the result would only have advisory status and could be open to legal challenge.

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The scottish secretary will say a vote organised by the Scottish government would be purely advisory and open to legal challenge since the power to change Scotland's constitutional status rests with Westminster”

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It is expected to confirm that Westminster could formally transfer additional powers to Holyrood to allow it to hold a binding referendum.

But BBC political editor Nick Robinson said conditions could be attached to that transfer, including ruling out a third choice in any vote - for greater powers to be devolved to Scotland without full independence - which Mr Cameron fears could split the unionist vote.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore will make a statement to the Commons on Tuesday, he added, outlining the government's opinion on the legal status of an independence referendum.

It had also been reported that Downing Street could set a time limit, possibly 18 months, on any binding vote, but government sources have denied this.

'Decisive question'

Mr Cameron told Sky News he wanted to resolve that "legal uncertainty" and wanted to work with the Scottish government to give the people of Scotland the option of "a fair and more decisive question", put earlier rather than later.

"But we're not going to dictate this, this is something we want to resolve, the legal position," he added.

David Cameron: "I strongly support the United Kingdom"

But amid reports of a possible time limit, Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused Mr Cameron of "a blatant attempt to interfere" in a decision that should be for the Scottish government and Scottish people.

"It's the attachment of conditions that gives the game away - this is Westminster trying to interfere," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Perhaps I should be relaxed about that because the more a Tory government tries to interfere in Scottish democracy then I suspect the greater the support for independence will be, but there is a key issue of democratic principle here.

"The SNP was elected on a clear prospectus and it's right that now that we have the mandate we can proceed on that basis."

Legal challenge

The prime minister's spokesman said the 1998 Scotland Act, which brought about devolution, made clear that constitutional issues were reserved for Westminster.

"Clearly, a number of independent commentators and legal experts have highlighted the fact that a referendum Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament could be open to legal challenge," he added.

The BBC's Lorna Gordon has been gauging reaction in Scotland to the referendum

Ms Sturgeon said referendums in the UK were always "consultative and advisory" so talk of a binding vote was unnecessary.

She said the SNP would prefer a straight yes/no referendum, but there was "a significant body of opinion" in Scotland which was in favour of financial independence, but not full political independence.

The Scottish government's website states that, even if a non-binding referendum was held: "The moral and political force of a vote for independence would be enormous, and impossible for a future government to ignore. A negative vote would similarly have a political consequence."


But Conservative peer Lord Forsyth, a former Scottish secretary, said the SNP had not set a firm date for a referendum because they knew the majority of people were currently opposed to full independence and "they are afraid they will lose it".

"They want to spend the next two or three years creating resentment on both sides of the border," he told BBC Radio 4's World At One.

"It is quite extraordinary that the party which stands for independence for Scotland won't take yes for an answer from David Cameron when he says the Scottish people can decide".

Chancellor George Osborne led discussions on Scotland at Monday's cabinet meeting and set out his concerns about the impact of uncertainty over a referendum on Scotland's economy. The PM's spokesman said both Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne had been told in private by business leaders that uncertainty was deterring inward investment.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont told the BBC a vote should take place "as soon as possible" on "a clear question".

"It's necessary for the people of Scotland to be given the opportunity to decide their constitutional future sooner rather than later in order that the uncertainty around the economy, around business and all the rest of it is addressed," she said.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Absolutely 100% against independence. As a man born and raised in Edinburgh and a staunch Labour supporter, I would even rather vote Tory ahead of the SNP if it meant keeping the Union together. There is absolutely no need whatsoever to take a massive gamble and risk splitting up what has stood for over 300 years, based purely on some idealistic values from the dark ages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    "After all, none of this has anything to do with the people of modern England."
    Wrong! The break-up of the Union would affect everyone on this island, and would benefit almost no one, on either side of the Border. The more rabid English commentators here need to realise this. We've far more in common with each other than differences. And does Scotland want to be another Slovakia?

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    142 NeoRealist - You talk as though Scotland already is independent. I hate to point it out to you but Scotland is still a part of the United Kingdom at the moment and David Cameron is the PM of the UK whether you like it or not. We had to suffer Scottish PM's Blair and Brown for the past 13 years supported by Scottish Labour so you should accept an English Tory with good grace for a change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    As a part Irish, part Cornish Yorkshireman, I think the vitriolic posters on both sides of this debate should be ashamed of themselves. We're all the same people. I love both Scotland and England, but as a northerner, I feel more akin to the Scots than my southern English countrymen and women. I can see why Scotland wants independence looking some of my fellow English posters. Grow up!

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    If the majority of those in Scotland do not want to be part of the UK, then we should let them go their own way even if we are weaker apart than together. English tax payers then pay only for public services in England, and Scottish tax payers pay for theirs. Salmond should just get the referendum over and done with now, stop dragging it out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    151. arjomac -- It is the Trident base which would need to be duplicated and paid for over a 15 year rather than 40 year life span. Not the Trident missiles or subs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    @Steve 137

    Any time you gather enough support to force the issue.

    I am pro Scottish independence, ergo, I also favour English independence (good for the goose, good for the gander). Instead of whinging about the lack of "fairness" in Scotland having its own government why not found the English National Party and stand for election promising first devolution then a free referendum.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Can we have the economic facts in this debate - rather than just nationalist sentiment, please. Westminster gets tax revenue from oil - but how much? Also, RBS is a company incorporated in Scotland, so if an independent Scotland is entitled to all the oil revenue tax, should it not be expected to pay for it's national bank's bailout? Can't have it both ways. BBC give us some facts, please..

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Let the Scottish have their referendum and we will then find out what the Scottish people want. Personally I would be sad to see the UK break up. Not because of revenues or taxes or policy, but as the UK we have brought benefits not only to this country but the world when working together. With troubled times ahead surely both England and Scotland would benefit from working together.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.


    Absolutely. As long as Mr Salmond agrees to take the total Liability on for RBS and reccompense out of pocket English taxpayers for what is generally agreed in the city as the worst run bank ever.

    And to whoever (earlier posting) wanted the contract for building the border. I'd be happy to donate free weekends to manning the checkpoints :-)

  • Comment number 180.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Surely Cameron must be considering a third option, which is to sell Scotland off to the private sector at a bargain price. He's doing it with everything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Whilst a firm believer that the Scots have a right to secure their own destiny,I doubt that the devolved Scottish Parliament actually has the constitutional power to hold a binding referendum. It would probably have to be organised from Westminster and I think this is what David Cameron may announce. It is by no means certain that most Scots will vote for full independence anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    This needs to be sorted out ASAP, regardless on your position.

    Which businesses are going to invest £millions in Scotland now, when there future is unclear?

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    If you live in Scotland each person receives £10,200 from the taxpayer as opposed to £8,000 in England, please let the whole of the u.k. Vote so the imbalance can be removed. I.e. Good bye Scotland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    What about Scots born in Scotland and living in England (several hundred thousand) are we to get a vote on whether Scotland remains in the UK? If not we will have to trade in our British passports for Scottish ones without having any say in the matter. What about our democratic rights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    As one of these madcap extremists, I don't think I could have asked for a better example of the democratic deficit in the current union than those given by Messrs Cameron and Clegg this weekend.

    Keep up the good work boys you're our best recruiting advert! :0)

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Astonishing that a Tory PM, with only one Tory MP in the whole of Scotland, feels he has the locus to decide what's in the best interests of Scotland. Whatever your views on independence, surely this is a matter for the Scottish Government and Scotland's people??

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    wee eck is a class act,he learned his trade in the big hoose watching the best,(thatcher and blair),this is becoming about one man, salmond, what happens with life after salmond,sturgeon and swinney both failed leaders no credible opposition talent and no salmond protege in view.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    Most of these posts suggest a fair bit of animosity between Scots and English. I think that's regrettable and unrepresentative but it is understandable given Cameron's insistence on using the same bullying tactics on Scotland as he has done on the rest of Europe. Cameron is fast becoming the SNP's vote winner.


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