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 210.

    If there is a referendum on whether or not to split up my country then I should have the right vote on that, whether I am Scottish, English, Welsh or Northern Irish.

    I'd also prefer that the SNP stopped asking every few years!

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    Funny that we never heard of panic caused by a Norwegian banking crisis"

    I trust that you recall that there was an Icelandic banking crisis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    I dont think by independence they will boost Scottish economy any better or sooner than if they was part of the UK which seems to be one of the main arguments for independence. I do fear as the Scottish government try to create an argument for independence, this may create an idea we are 'at war' with each other for some people, especially were the papers are concerned and we could see violence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Devolution is a one way street towards the parochialism of independence. Cameron's intervention, like his influence in the EU, is not a positive one and will only serve to encourage Scots down the Independence road. Mrs Thatcher started this move towards independence with her trial of the poll tax on the Scots in the 80's. How ironic !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    I think Scotland should either be in or out.

    They want all fiscal control - well you cant have the cake and just eat the icing.

    If this does happen though the barnet formula must be scrapped.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.


    @39 the torries only have 1 mp in scotland explain how that is a mandate"

    Equally the SNP has no MPs in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Does that mean they have a mandate to make decisions affecting the whole UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    If allowed to proceed this is a disaster in the making which will almost certainly, over time, lead to the Balkanisation of the United Kingdom.This is not a case of "giving it a go", once done it may never be undone. It's also ironic that this is only feasible for Scotland because of the existence of the EU, yet there is no certainty that the EU will survive in a form that would benefit Scotland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    #156 It’s had the ’critical mass’ to support the English et al for centuries. Without that burden there’s nae problem whatsoever supporting a Westminster-free Scotland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    The simple choice ought to be:

    (a) No devolved powers (close the Scottish Parliament), OR

    (b) Full independence.

    This is straight to the point and one way or the others resolves many issues. With an independent Scotland there will be no more West Loathian etc type arguments, with a reunited UK there would be no more SNP 'govt' to have another referendum. Anything in between is pointless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Mooks74 - et al - "who does David Cameron think he is?" erm – Prime Minister of the UK which includes Scotland?

    As an Englishman I am in favour of independence for Scotland. The sooner the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    I still can't see how a full separation of Scotland from the UK would even work, let alone be a good thing for either country. Surely there are too many elements that are too closely integrated? What about national debt? Future of RBS as 84% is owned by the UK government? The amount of infrastructure funding the UK has put into energy development in Scotland land/waters etc.?

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    I'm pleased to hear Mr C say the referendum vote should be a straightforward 'in or out'. Perhaps he should tell his Eurosceptic loonies the same would apply IF ever there was a referendum on continued EU membership.
    Can the SNP also tell the people of Scotland that a Yes (to independence) would also mean no more cash handouts and subsidies from the English taxpayer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Are Scots living and working in other parts of the UK to be given the vote on this? There are many Scots who live and work in London for instance, which is still Capital of the whole UK, will they get a vote on this? Shouldn't there be a national vote for everyone in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Reading the comments on here doesn't help the idea that voters are ignorant. People shrug their shoulders at the break up if the United Kingdom, ignoring the real and serious consequences to our economy, military capabilities and already weakening foreign influence. Let alone the capacity for the British Isles to take decisive decisions on things like climate change. Can people just THINK!

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    The government of the UK should very much be involved in any debate to break or change its structure. Scottish Nationalists won't like that because they don't really recognise the UK governments right to say anything about Scotland. They can huff and puff but it isn't their decision alone and there is a lot to be negotiated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    The Scots have made a mess running the UK (Brown, Darling etc.) have racked up huge debts in their banks and are expecting the English to pay for it. We currently have a half baked system - they are either fully in the union or fully out. If they vote no to independence we will still have the current mess, so I truly hope they vote yes and the sooner the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    @suchan104 - Scottish banks worked under Westminsters rules and overseen by UK regulators, any failings were condoned by an inefficient system. Funny that we never heard of panic caused by a Norwegian banking crisis, a non-EU state independent since 1905 that control their financial sector properly because their political parties are not funded by the banking sector.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Wow BBC do you just copy everything the Guardian does? I noticed this a lot but this story is a great example was a small story lead item in the Scottish politics sections, the guardian.then does puts if front page with comment and oh what does the BBC do?

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Cameron clearly doesn't know his history. Thatcher sticking her nose into Scotland and treating us like guinea pigs is what led to the annihilation of the Tories in Scotland.

    DC is about to make the same mistake. By trying to seize the initiaive he is actually increasing the likelihood of a yes vote. Stupidly arrogant!

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    1. Most of the Scots area of the North Sea Oil Fields would belong to Shetland if Shetland was independent.
    2. Wouldn't it be funny if Scotland won independence and then Shetland won independence from Scotland.
    3. Tax on North Sea Oil is applied when the tankers leave the refineries. Most refineries are in England so England would still get the taxes.
    4. I don't recall the Scottish Gov saving RBS.


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