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.

Start Quote

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 230.

    @ 78 Zipperty

    hmm..looking at the web address at the top of my page, it says "/uk-politics.." not "/england-politics.."

    I believe that scotland is still part of the UK.

    It's comments like yours that undermine the independent Scotland arguement. Bigotted comments like yours show people that instead of a devolved scotland being a sensible solution, it is only the wish of the braveheart brigade.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    I think it is in the interests of all parties this is time limited as there needs to be certainty for both sides of the argument. I also think this will help put to bed the arguments about independance as the significant, quiet majority in scotland do not want independance. The union has served all very well for hundreds of years and no one can actually put forward a rational argument against.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Cameron says he's for the union but his actions don't back that up. His intervention and insistence on a simple 'yes or no' answer will play into Salmonds hands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Scottish independence would be a total disaster and I hope that people have the sense to not break the union. Alex Salmond is probably trying to leave the vote to the very end of their term because he knows that it will be a no vote. In my opnion the sooner the vote the better so that it can deflate the SNP party and Scotland can engage in some meaningful politics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    As an Englishman I really hope that the Yes/No vote is afforded the scots and I hope they take the Yes vote. The sooner the scots are no longer a drain on my taxes the better. They have not not stopped whinging about independence for many years. Please let them go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    @133 Alan McIntosh
    We do also need to consider a second referendum to see if Berwick on Tweed, Cumbria and Northumberland want to come with us. ;-)

    I think you should move the border further south, I live in Greater Manchester and would happily vote to join you. As far as this Tory Government is concerned nothing exists north of Watford.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    There are more Pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs, so where lies Cameron's mandate to dictate terms? Three centuries ago Scotland's political elite were bribed, economic trade sanctions were threatened, and there was talk of troops being moved up to the border in the event that the vote didn't go the way Queen Anne and the Parliament of England desired. I wonder what 'tricks' will be used this time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Cameron wants a vote in 2012 because its the best chance for a massive No - too much economic uncertainty and hope that the Olympic games stirs up a bit of national pride.

    Salmond, on the other hand, wants a vote in 2014 when hopefully the economy will be in recovery and he can use the 700 year old anniversary of Bannockburn to whip up Scots pride.

    Both games with very little financial detail!

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    How can it be "a blatant attempt to interfere" - we are still the UK for now. I used to be very pro the Scots; not anymore. Scotland, stop moaning and just go, please. Tomorrow would not be soon enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    I have lived in all parts of the UK, however since moving to England I now have to pay prescription charges and university education. We cannot have one rule for the north and another for the south.

    Implementing social polices similar to Nordic countries should cause tax at similar levels – between 43% and 51%.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    erzan, we in Scotland are not ignoring these issues. We will sort out our economy first, then we will have a defense that is suitable for protecting our borders. We will of course help other nations via the UN. Finally (on your point we will build our renewables industry so that we can market these devices to the world and thus deal properly with climate change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Is it just a coincidence that Scotland are agitating for independence from the UK on the same day as the report suggesting that we should all have 2 Drink Free Days a week ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    170. PhlyerPhil

    You are exactly right. Modern Scottish people don't want independence... I've asked many people who voted for the SNP if they want independence and 100% of them said no, "we voted for the SNP because labour and conservatives are rubbish and the SNP had some good policies at the time."

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    The Scottish people rejected the proposals of the Conservative, Labour, and Lib Dems at the last election, giving a mandate to the Scottish National Party to hold a referendum on the matter of Scottish Independance towards the 2nd half of this current parliament. Interference such as this by Westminster in Hollyrood affairs shows that indeed Scotland should have more powers, or Independance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Canada had a strong separatist movement for 30 years and one province elected its own separatist government. This has all petered out, but at the time it did Canada (and the province concerned) a good deal of economic damage. Maybe Cameron wants to avoid any more damage to the UK which is a far more vulnerable country than Canada.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    Cameron being a Scottish name, if the Scots quit the UK, will they repatriate the PM?

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    David Cameron is just trying to manipulate the vote and scottish people to suit the no camp through fear by holding it before any economic recovery and before we know what the economic uncertainty in the EU will mean for our future. The SNP always planned to have a straight yes or no advisory referendum in the second half of the parliment and will go on to do so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Whilst proud to be from Yorkshire (who's population is greater than Scotland's) I am more PROUD of being British and sharing common bonds with the Scottish, Irish, Welsh and other English that make up this united country. We are GREAT BRITAIN because we are one nation and I hope that Scotland decides to stay in the Union as together we are all stronger (politically, financially and militarily).

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    I would be sorry to see Scotland go, we would all be the weaker but nothing lasts forever. However, like you can't be part pregnant, you cant be part independent either therefore, there has to be a manned border with Scotland having the same status as any other EU country; it must also apply if it wishes for Commonwealth status. Let us separate as friends but separate fully and properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    @ greatBobFrance

    "This is the UK. All decisions must be taken by all inhabitants."

    Not entirely democratic, what if Scotland voted 'Yes' and England voted 'No'?


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