Q&A: Scottish independence referendum
Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, wants to hold an independence referendum in the autumn of 2014.
Following months of discussion - and argument - the Scottish and UK governments struck a deal on how to take things forward, with the arrangements to be put to the Scottish Parliament for final approval.When is the referendum happening?
After much teasing - Alex Salmond named the date as Thursday 18 September, 2014.
Previously, he only went as far as to say the ballot would be staged in autumn of that year.
Incidentally, 2014 also happens to be the year two prestigious sporting events - the Ryder Cup golf tournament and the Commonwealth Games - are being held in Scotland.Who gets to vote?
Essentially, everyone over the age of 16 who lives in Scotland.
The voter "franchise", as it's known, is largely the same as for a Scottish Parliament and council elections, with the addition of lowering the voting age from 18.
That means the 800,000 Scots who live in other parts of the UK don't get a vote, while the 400,000 people from elsewhere in Britain who live in Scotland do.
All the main players on both sides of the debate agree this is the fairest way to do things.
Eligibility to take part in the referendum also includes members of the armed services serving overseas who are registered to vote in Scotland.What will be on the ballot paper?
Voters will be asked the yes/no question: "Should Scotland be an independent country?"
The Scottish government previously wanted to ask: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?".
But, SNP ministers agreed on a change, suggested by the Electoral Commission, which raised concerns that the phrase "do you agree" could lead people into voting "yes".
Past incarnations of the referendum question have proved far more wordy.
The SNP previously said people could be asked to vote "Yes I agree" or "No I disagree" to the statement: "The Scottish Parliament should negotiate a new settlement with the British government, based on the proposals set out in the white paper, so that Scotland becomes a sovereign and independent state."Who is in charge of the referendum and who will make sure it's run properly?
MSPs will be asked to approve the terms of the vote in the SNP government's Scottish Independence Referendum Bill, currently making its way through parliament.
This followed the signing of what became known as the Edinburgh Agreement, signed between Mr Salmond and UK Prime Minister David Cameron - a measure to ensure the referendum could be "made in Scotland" and held on a fully legal basis.
The Scottish government says the bill would make sure that:
- The referendum itself is preceded by a 16-week formal campaign period, during which limits will apply to the amount of money registered campaigners can spend, to ensure a level playing field for both sides of the debate.
- The vote is overseen by the independent Electoral Commission watchdog, which is responsible for regulating campaign rules and informing the public about the referendum.
- The ballot is conducted under the direction of a "chief counting officer", who will be responsible for appointing local counting officers.
A separate bill on giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote has also been brought before Holyrood.
The UK government is giving temporary powers to the Scottish Parliament to hold a legal referendum, under Section 30 of the 1998 Scotland Act - the piece of legislation which set up the Scottish Parliament.
This is because constitutional matters are reserved to the Westminster parliament.
The Edinburgh Agreement also commits both governments to working together constructively in the best interests of the people of Scotland, whatever the outcome of the referendum - possibly easier said than done.
The SNP's parliamentary majority at Holyrood will ensure all the legislation is passed.Who will be campaigning?
Yes Scotland is the official campaign for independence, while Better Together is the group arguing to keep the Union.
The various political parties have given their support to the two campaigns, depending on their constitutional persuasion, although the parties are running their own campaigns, as are the Scottish and UK governments
It's likely that other campaign groups will spring up as the campaign goes on.How far back does Scotland's modern independence movement go?
The campaign for Scottish home rule began in earnest almost as soon as the unification with England took place, in 1707.
At the time, the view was that Scotland was desperate for cash, but opponents of the move were outraged by claims that the Scots who put their names to the Act of Union were bribed.
The episode moved Scotland's Bard, Robert Burns, to write: "We are bought and sold for English gold. Such a parcel of rogues in a nation."
Fast forward many years to 1934, and the establishment of the Scottish National Party, created through the amalgamation of the Scottish Party and the National Party of Scotland.
After decades of ups and downs, the party won its first election in 2007, forming a minority government, before becoming the first party to win an overall majority at Holyrood in the 2011 poll - and securing its mandate for an independence referendum.What about more recently?
Scottish devolution in 1999 presented a significant opportunity for the SNP, which at the time had a handful of MPs who were struggling to make the case for independence at Westminster.
The prime minister who delivered devolution, Tony Blair, was aware of the potential opportunity a Scottish Parliament could give the SNP.
So the Scottish Parliament's part first-past-the-post, part PR voting system was intended to prevent any one party (ie the SNP) gaining an overall majority.
This was the case initially - up to the 2011 election there had been two terms of a Labour/Lib Dem coalition and one of an SNP minority government.
The 2011 result blew out of the water the claim once made by Labour veteran Lord Robertson that devolution would "kill nationalism stone dead".
Could the situation now be more akin to comments by another Labour stalwart, Tam Dalyell, who described devolution as "a motorway to independence with no U-turns and no exits?"Does Scotland want independence?
Hard to say with any great certainty at the moment.
There is no shortage of polling data on the issue of independence, putting support at various levels.
Polling expert John Curtice says the British Social Attitudes survey is the only exercise of its kind which has asked the same question about constitutional preferences going back to the foundation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.
He says support for independence has tended to oscillate between about a quarter and a third, with the latest instalment of the survey, published in January, suggesting the figure is at its lowest level since the creation of the Holyrood parliament in 1999.
A total of 23% of the 1,229 people questioned between July and November last year said they favoured the proposition that, "Scotland should become independent, separate from the rest of the UK".
In response, the SNP say the period of time in which the field work was carried out has been overtaken by events.
Prof Curtice, co-author of the survey, also warns: "In truth, there isn't any clear evidence that either one side or the other, over the whole period of devolution, has made significant progress either in reducing support for independence or succeeding in increasing it."
Another factor is the number of people who vote SNP, but are not necessarily convinced that independence is the way to go.
Prof Curtice adds: "The SNP undoubtedly has succeeded in providing Scotland with what people regard as effective government - but there isn't any clear evidence of any long-term increase in support for independence since 2007."
In the Scottish Parliament elections of 1999 and 2003, Labour's plan to essentially scare people out of support for independence worked.
Now it seems the public are much less afraid, and, whether or not it's the case that majority support for independence exists, seem much more willing to put it to the test in a referendum.
There are also many other factors which could affect support for independence, like coalition spending cuts, UK welfare reform to the ability of Scotland to thrive as a small nation during a period of global economic uncertainty.
It's also worth mentioning the SNP aren't the only pro-independence politicians at Holyrood.
The Scottish Greens back the move, as does independent MSP Margo MacDonald - a former SNP politician.
But Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats are opposed.The SNP has an overall majority in Scotland - why does it not simply declare independence?
The SNP has always taken the view that, on an issue of such significance, it would first need the backing of the Scottish people in a referendum.
It also needs this mandate to negotiate an independence settlement with the UK government.What about the "second question" and what is devo-max?
Despite being a significant part of the independence debate, this issue has gone away - on the ballot paper at least.
Voters will simply be asked whether they want independence, rather than also being asked on the ballot paper whether they want more powers for Holyrood short of that - the so-called second question.
Proposals for "devo max", "devo plus", "devo more" and even "devo minus" have reared their heads.
Nobody is entirely sure what they all mean, but they broadly refer to significant new final and other powers for Holyrood (apart from devo minus - a term referred to by the Telegraph Scottish editor, Alan Cochrane.)
Westminster always wanted a straight yes/no vote on independence.
The SNP was officially of a similar view, but had also referred to "a significant body of opinion" in Scotland which wants more powers.
The party's opponents said this was simply a ploy to rescue the SNP from oblivion in the event of a vote against independence.
There was also a fear at Westminster that devo-max would be harder to defeat, because it splits the unionist vote and wins over those who otherwise would have said no to full independence.
Now that it's no longer a matter for the referendum, some form of debate on new powers for Holyrood would get under way in the event of a vote against independence.
That same attitudes survey which put support for independence at 23% also indicated people wanted to see a big increase in the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament.What happens in the event of a 'Yes' Vote?
Talks would begin with the UK government on a constitutional settlement, based on the SNP's declaration of a popular mandate from the Scottish people.
Of course, if the Scottish people speak up for independence, it makes it all but impossible for Westminster ministers to say: "No, you can't have it."
It's hard to say exactly how things would happen, given this would be new territory, but it's likely the timescale from a "Yes" vote to full independence would be lengthy, given the huge number of issues which would need to be resolved.
Defence would be the main one - especially since Britain's nuclear weapons are based at the Faslane naval base on the Clyde.
It's also clear that, as things currently stand, an independent Scotland would continue to use the pound, at least initially, as its currency.
Mr Salmond would like to join the Euro, subject to a referendum and the right economic conditions - but that's not exactly an attractive prospect at the moment.
It has been suggested that full independence, in the event of a 'yes' vote, could be delivered in 2016.
Even after that, there are hurdles to clear - like membership of the European Union to name but one.What happens if there is a 'No' Vote? Would there be another referendum?
Alex Salmond has described the independence referendum as a once-in-a-generation event.
All the parties - unionist and pro-independence - are keen to avoid the situation which has unfolded in the Canadian province of Quebec, where debate over multiple independence referendums over the years has been dubbed the "neverendum".
A "No" result in the referendum could spell the end for the SNP as a mainstream political force.
It's also likely that focus would shift back to the debate over more powers for Holyrood - with full fiscal autonomy, as opposed to relying on the Treasury block grant, possibly becoming a more serious option.