Minister Moore 'happy to sort out' legal referendum

Michael Moore and Alex Salmond Michael Moore says he wants to work with Alex Salmond

UK minister Michael Moore has said he would be happy to work with Scotland's first minister to "sort out" legal issues over an independence referendum.

The Westminster government had insisted that Holyrood could not go ahead with the poll without its authority.

But Alex Salmond said his SNP administration had the right to hold the referendum in the autumn of 2014.

If Westminster and Holyrood fail to resolve the legal issue it could end up being ruled over by the Supreme Court.

Mr Moore insisted that "we get on with" the referendum which he said was the "most important decision any of us in Scotland will take in our lives".

During Scottish Questions in the House of Commons, the Lib Dem coalition minister told MPs that the referendum would be "made in Scotland and for the people of Scotland".

A unified tone on the issue was sounded during Prime Minister's Questions when David Cameron said he "100% agreed" with Labour leader Ed Miliband that the UK was "stronger together and weaker apart".

Start Quote

Let's talk about how to organise a referendum on independence or you could end up in court. ”

End Quote

The PM said he was a passionate believer in the union, adding that he was "sad that we are even having this debate".

However, Mr Cameron acknowledged that the SNP's May 2011 election victory gave it the right to hold a referendum.

On Tuesday the MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk delivered a statement on the Scottish referendum and confirmed a UK government consultation would take place.

The SNP government has also announced that it would hold its own consultation on the Scottish independence vote.

In addition, it revealed it wanted the referendum to be held in autumn 2014.

But it has been argued that in order for it to be binding, the UK government needs to provide the Scottish government with the legal authority.

Westminster's "clear view" was that the power to hold a referendum was "reserved" to Westminster under devolution laws passed in 1998 and that the Scottish government could not authorise a referendum on its own.

Mr Moore told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "I think the important point is that we would not want to carry out the whole referendum process, make the decision in the ballot box and then discover somebody somewhere wanted to challenge that."

'Get out clause'

Asked who might want to make a legal challenge, he said: "I don't know, but isn't it better to resolve that potential, get rid of any risk which I think is clear cut risk, let's get on with it.

"I am happy to work with Alex to sort out the legal issue and then let's have a debate about whether or not Scotland should be part of the UK or not - that is the crux of this matter."

SNP position Unionist position

Wants the referendum in the autumn of 2014

Wants the referendum "sooner rather than later"

Backs a "yes/no" ballot but is open minded on including a second "devo max" question

Wants a one question "yes/no" ballot

Wants 16 and 17-year-olds to be able to vote in the referendum

Backs the status quo with 18 and over able to vote

Wants a special commission to conduct the referendum

Wants the Electoral Commission to oversee the vote

But Mr Salmond said UK PM David Cameron had "no mandate" to set the rules and suggested he was doing so because he was "frightened" he would lose.

The SNP leader believed the 2014 date would allow people to make a "considered" decision on the country's future within the UK.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was "not fair" to suggest he was worried he would lose if the referendum had only two options - to stay in the UK or leave it - which is the UK government's preference.

He denied wanting a "get out clause" and said there was a "lot of opinion in Scotland" supporting a third option - increased financial powers for the Scottish government, short of full independence, known as "devo max".

Mr Salmond said: "I just don't think it's right and proper at this stage, before people have had a consultation on the referendum question or questions for the UK government to start ruling that out.

"Why should we be excluding what is a legitimate point of view across Scotland?

"Perhaps the Westminster politicians are trying to set the ground rules, the timing, who votes, the questions because they are frightened they will lose it?"

Mr Salmond went on to accuse the UK government of adopting a belligerent attitude.

He said Mr Cameron's intervention had been "almost Thatcher-esque". He added: "The idea [was] that 'London knows best' and was really operating in our best interests but wanted to set the ground rules for our referendum, despite the fact he's got no mandate whatsoever for doing so.

"The SNP won an overwhelming majority on the promise that we would offer the people a referendum on their own future, is it not entirely reasonable that that referendum ... is made in Scotland and decided by the Scottish people?"

Big differences

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said Mr Salmond's announcing the preferred date was a "panicked response from a panicked first minister".

Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said the "key issues" were what the referendum question would be and who would oversee the vote.

Under the Scottish government's timetable, a referendum bill would be introduced at Holyrood in January 2013, it would be expected to be passed by the autumn and gain Royal Assent later in 2013.

Big differences also remain between the Scottish and UK governments on the timing of the referendum, who would run it and on whether 16 and 17-year-olds could vote.

From BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme

Michael Moore, Scottish Secretary of State Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister

"This is the most important decision any of us in Scotland will take in our lives. The most historical decision in 300 years, on that much we agree. I think a decision like that is one we want debated and resolved sooner rather than later." Listen in full

"Our conditions are quite clear - this must be a referendum built and run in Scotland, accountable to the Scottish Parliament. It has to be run fairly and transparently, but we won't accept unreasonable conditions placed by London." Listen in full


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1078.

    What is so important about being a "big" country with power and influence in the world? Do you think the citizens of Switzerland, Netherlands or Estonia would prefer to swap their lifestyles for the those of USA or UK with their grinding poverty, obscene wealth and need to fight battles all over the planet because they are despised by so many? It's about having contented, healthy citizens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1062.

    I'm English, but recognise that Scotland's not just a bit of our island, but a Nation in its own right. If three Benelux countries can survive independently within the EU, why not Scotland? But they'd need Scottish defence forces, Diplomatic Service, EU costs, and all the other things a sovereign nation needs. And no Barnett formula! providing an English subsidy, either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1048.

    Dissolution of the UK is not in the best interests of its peoples. However, the political reality is that it is probably unavoidable given the competitive and antagonistic relationship between Westminster and national parliaments or assemblies. Devolution is an unhappy and unsustainable half-way house. Scotland should make the bad, but inevitable, decision to leave. Beware of 'friendly' wolves!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1046.

    The countries of the former Soviet Union and countries such as Czech Republic and Slovakia show that devolution can be a success. They made choices based on what was fundamentally right, not what was in their immediate economic interest. Scotland wouldn't be much different.

    However, I want the Union to stay. But I'm also a Tory. An independent Scotland would be fine news, electorally!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1009.

    Independence is wrong for Scotland. I have lived in Scotland most of my life. We would not survive independently. I worked in oil in Aberdeen for many years and was one of many out of work whenever oil took a downturn - which was often. If Scotland votes for independence, let it be for the right reasons and with more than one leader from which to choose - not someone on a power trip.


Comments 5 of 16


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