Report: Independence referendum statement

Key points

  • Scottish Secretary Michael Moore made a statement to MPs on the legal status of a future referendum on Scottish independence.
  • During his address, news came through that the Scottish National Party had named its preferred time period for the poll - Autumn 2014.
  • Both the Scottish government and the UK government have announced plans to hold a consultation on the issue.

    Welcome to our live video and text coverage of Scottish Secretary Michael Moore's statement to the House of Commons on a future Scottish independence referendum. MPs are currently hearing details of the high speed rail plan. Mr Moore is due to address the Commons in about 20 minutes time.


    There is a great deal of background to the Scottish independence issue. For good background information have a look at BBC Scotland politics reporter Andrew Black's Q&A.


    First Minister Alex Salmond is due to meet his Cabinet colleagues this afternoon to talk about his government's plans for a public consultation on the referendum issue. He says details will be made public later this month.


    @AMacleodTimes Salmond will now use consultation responses to get devo-max question on ballot.

    Analysis Brian Taylor Political editor, Scotland

    There would appear to be at least a degree of internal tension sussurating below the surface of the UK coalition with regard to the proposed independence referendum. Equally, as billed yesterday, I would not seek to over-emphasise this. At core, both sides deprecate independence and oppose Alex Salmond. The question is how.... read more


    Transport Secretary Justine Greening pledges to keep talking to the Scottish government about the high speed rail link (there is currently no plan to take it across the border). The minister has announced the \u00a333bn scheme which will go ahead despite strong opposition. Phase one of HS2, between London and Birmingham, should be running by 2026, later extending to northern England.


    @TimReidBBC Miliband: "Cross party (referendum) campaign will be led by people of grit and steel.... including me"

    Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland

    As well as the various legal issues the UK government has to deal with over the referendum, it is also strongly resisting the issue of a second question on the ballot paper asking Scots if they want more powers for Holyrood. The coalition says this will create too much confusion and it's much better to deal with the issue cleanly, with a single question. The Scottish government's own consultation on the issue, due this month, will seek to show that the voters support a second question, which the SNP then wants to use to pressurise UK ministers into including it.


    The SNP wants...

    • the referendum towards the end of its five-year Holyrood term
    • backs a "yes/no" ballot but is open minded on including a second "devo max" question
    • 16 and 17-year-olds to be able to vote in the referendum

    Ms Greening further confirms her intention to keep a dialogue open with the Scottish government on high speed rail - despite the logistical issues involved, particularly around funding.


    Back to the referendum on independence. What do unionist parties want?...

    • the referendum "sooner rather than later"
    • a one question "yes/no" ballot
    • backs the status quo with 18 and over able to vote

    @niallogallagher P\u00ecos bloig \u00f9ir air D\u00e0ibhidh Camshron agus an referendum #gaidhlig #sp4


    The Scottish government and the UK government appear at odds over who should run a future independence referendum. The SNP administration wants a special body established to take charge and the coalition government wants the Electoral Commission to take the lead.

    1634: Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland

    It's possible there may be a bit of delay in the referendum statement (billed time 16:30), as there are a number of MPs with constituency concerns about the high speed rail line which the speaker is keen to call - still a fairly interesting topic subject though, I'm sure you'll agree!


    Ms Greening says talks with Scottish representatives will begin tomorrow.


    Some more on high speed rail - the SNP's Westminster business spokesman, Mike Weir, wants the Scottish government to be able to start directly engaging with the delivery company now on future planning, even though this phase of the proposal only takes it to Birmingham.


    2026 will be the date at which "high speed trains" will make it to Glasgow Central, says Ms Greening. In the meantime, she adds, it is "good news that we are getting on with this network for phase one and phase two" before the network itself can make it into Scotland.

    Independence referendum
    Johann Lamont Johann Lamont is the new leader of the Scottish Labour Party

    Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont today called for all-party talks in Scotland to decide the date of the referendum, and said that civic leaders, trade unions and businesses must be involved in the selection of a date. She said: "This issue is far too important to become a fight between two things Scotland rejects - separation and the Tories."


    Rail freight is a critical issue, says Ms Greening. She agreed care was needed to look after the current line as well as get on with the new high speed network.

    High-speed rail 1654:

    The SNP Business and Enterprise spokesperson Mike Weir MP expressed worries that Scotland was being left in the sidings due to a lack of commitment to delivering high-speed rail connecting Scotland and the south. Mr Weir said: "High speed rail connecting Scotland to the south of England would transform travel in the UK and would bring huge economic benefits for business."


    @CliveBG So if UK Government has control over a referendum on Scottish independence, will they let England & Wales vote as well?


    What is HS2?

    The initial plan is for a new railway line between London and the West Midlands, carrying 400m-long (1,300ft) trains at speeds of up to 250mph - faster than any current operating speed in Europe. They would travel up to 14 times per hour in each direction. This would be followed by a Y-shaped extension taking services from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.... read more questions and answers

    High-speed rail 1700:

    "Give me a chance to get up to Scotland and meet with the Scottish government," Ms Greening pleads with Sheila Gilmore, MP for Edinburgh East.

    Independence referendum 1701: Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland

    If you fancy a wee trip down memory lane, cast your mind back to the Scottish government's last consultation on the constitution - the National Conversation - launched way back in August 2007. At the time, it rivalled a consultation on more powers for Holyrood - the Calman Commission - which eventually led to the creation of the Scotland Bill. The National Conversation died a death of sorts in the end, because the SNP minority government of the day didn't have enough support for the referendum bill, unlike now.


    Ms Greening again pledges her intention to speak to Scottish ministers on the future of high-speed rail, beyond phase two.


    Could we be getting closer to Mr Moore's statement? Scotland's sole Tory MP David Mundell enters the chamber.


    Referendum statement now getting under way, from Scottish Secretary Michael Moore.


    Mr Moore says he wants to make a statement on Scotland's future in the United Kingdom.


    Mr Moore says he wants a decision made in Scotland by the people of Scotland. But he says uncertainty is bad for jobs and investment.


    Mr Moore says the decision on independence will be the "most important decision Scots will take in our lifetime".


    The Scottish Secretary will publish a consultation. He says the Scotland Act 1998 is clear that the Scottish government cannot legislate on reserved matters. That includes changes to the constitution.


    Mr Moore says any distinction between a binding and advisory referendum is "artificial".


    The Scottish Secretary says he wants to empower the people of Scotland in a legal referendum.


    The rules of the referendum must be "fair and decisive", Mr Moore says.


    Consultation will be open to "ALL people within Scotland, indeed OUTWITH Scotland", to give their opinions on how the referendum should be held.


    Mr Moore says his government does not believe in independence. But he owes it to the people of Scotland to decide the issue in a "fair and decisive" way.


    Margaret Curran, Labour shadow Scottish Secretary of State, asks how will the Mr Moore take forward his proposals? Does Mr Moore plan to publish its legal advice and does he recommend that the SNP does the same, she further asks.

    1718: Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland

    Michael Moore is using law to set out why the UK government must be involved in the referendum, saying the Scottish Parliament simply doesn't have the powers to stage a legally-binding referendum. That said, the Scottish secretary is still recognising the SNP's electoral mandate, and wants to work to give the legal powers to Scottish ministers to overcome that - but the question is, what strings will be attached to such an offer?


    Ms Curran applauds the Electoral Commission and makes clear that body should oversee the referendum.


    She questions why the coalition has chosen the Chancellor George Osborne to lead the union's referendum campaign.

    1721: Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland

    Just to hammer home his point a bit more, Mr Moore is of the opinion that, were the SNP government simply to go ahead and hold a referendum, it would be pretty easy to overturn that on a court challenge


    @TimReidBBC Order giving SParl power over referendum will have to be approved by Westminster and Holyrood - but Scotland bill could also be used


    Mr Moore said it was important everyone in Scotland was part of the consultation process.


    The Scottish Secretary replies to Margaret Curran by saying the "legal position is that the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to conduct any form of referendum".


    Scottish Secretary Michael Moore agrees that there should be a simple Yes/No question on independence and he says the Electoral Commission "fits the bill" when looking for an authority to conduct the referendum.

    Analysis Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland

    Shadow Scottish Secretary Margaret Curran making the point there (endorsed by Michael Moore) of concerns that if people become too caught up in the legal process of holding a referendum, the arguments for and against independence itself may become lost. That's one of her arguments for saying the referendum must be held now.


    Labour MP Jack Straw asks if the Office of National Statistics or some other body could provide factual information about the benefits or otherwise of separation. This would aid the debate over independence, he says. Mr Moore says he accepts the point and it is something to consider.


    Sir Menzies Campbell, Lib Dem MP for North East Fife, welcomed the announcement and asked why the SNP was not getting on with the referendum straight away. "Is that the Bravehearts are not so brave any more?", he says.


    Mr Moore says it is important that the Scottish government is given the power to get on with the referendum.

    Analysis 1729: Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland

    Sir Menzies Campbell has a slight vested interest here, because the former Liberal Democrat leader is currently conducting yet another consultation on the Scottish constitution at the moment. His one is focussing on more Holyrood powers - the "Devo Max Consultation", for want of a better term.


    Angus Robertson, the SNP MP for Moray, asks why the government is trying to "dictate" the terms of the referendum, the date of the vote and trying to exclude 16 and 17-year-olds from this "historic" decision.


    Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) General Secretary Grahame Smith said: "The Secretary of State's aim of ensuring the Scottish Parliament's right to hold a legal referendum is welcome in that it potentially avoids protracted and divisive uncertainty on issues of legal competence which would have been to the detriment of the real debate."


    Mr Moore responds to Angus Robertson by again acknowledging that the SNP's massive election win in May 2011. However, he says that the Scottish Parliament does not have the power to hold referendum.


    Mr Moore says there is a debate to be had over 16 and 17-year-olds being given the vote, but it cannot be introduced just to favour the SNP in this case.


    The Scottish Secretary says the referendum should be "sooner rather than later".


    The UK government has posted details of its consultation on the independence referendum.


    Labour MP for Glasgow North, Ann Mckechin, asks how Mr Moore will reach agreement with the Scottish government over how to take the referendum forward. Mr Moore says he has spoken to the first minister and hopes to speak to him more often.

    Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland

    Michael Moore just isn't going to go for the SNP's call to give the right to vote in the referendum for 16 and 17-year-olds. He agrees it's part of a wider issue of young people getting involved in politics, but the referendum isn't the time to make the change, he says. For the record, the SNP has long supported lowering the voting age to 16 in all elections, but there's also an argument doing the rounds that young people may be more likely to back Scottish independence.


    Michael Connarty, the Labour MP for Linlithgow and Falkirk East, asks about giving greater powers to Scotland, short of independence. Mr Moore says extensions to Scottish powers have always come about after vigorous debate. He said Scotland's place in the United Kingdom was causing great uncertainty and needed to be sorted out quickly.


    Mr Moore says there is lots of talk about Devo Max - much greater powers for the Scottish Parliament - but no-one is yet sure of how that will work.


    Want to take part in the UK government's consultation? Here are a few details....

    • The deadline for responses is - Friday 9 March 2012
    • Post your response to - Referendum Consultation, Scotland Office, 1 Melville Crescent, Edinburgh, EH3 7HW
    • Email your response to -

    Tory MP Eleanor Laing accuses the SNP of "outstanding arrogance" over the refusal to believe they do not have the power to hold the independence referendum.


    Pete Wishart, the SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire, congratulated Prime Minister David Cameron for the "clumsy" way he handled the independence issue which was driving thousands more people to support it.


    @BBCRaymondB UK Govt Indy consultation doc says: "the ballot paper must give the voter a choice between only two responses." So no 2nd question.


    Anne McGuire, Labour MP for Stirling, said it was "surreal" and "bizarre" that the SNP now had the opportunity to fulfil its life's cause and it was refusing to join the debate on how that could be achieved.


    CBI CBI Scotland's director, Iain McMillan, said: "Concern does exist in our membership about the uncertainties arising from the commitment to a referendum and its timing. That is why we have called on the UK and Scottish administrations to work together to ensure that any referendum is held sooner rather than later, to deliver a clear result either for or against independence, and to ensure its legality is put beyond doubt. We look forward to responding to the consultation paper after consulting with our members on the detail."


    Labour MP for Central Ayrshire, Brian Donohoe, says the uncertainty over the referendum was affecting inward investment in his constituency. He urged the referendum as soon as possible.


    Labour MP Ian Lucas asks about the rumoured 18 months deadline for the referendum. Mr Moore says the 18 months limit is not the position of the UK government and it is not in the consultation document.


    The Scottish Secretary says it is important people have confidence in the referendum process. He says the Electoral Commission has the neutrality and experience which is needed to oversee the vote.

    1748: Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland

    By way of a recap, the debate is going something like this...

    • the UK government (which is opposed to independence) says it wants to help Scottish ministers by giving them the proper powers to hold a referendum which cannot be legally challenged or overturned by the courts.
    • in response, the SNP says Westminster is meddling too much and attaching "strings" to its offer of help, over issues like what should be on the ballot paper, etc.

    This will probably be the basic tone of the debate from here on in.


    SNP MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford asks if European citizens living in Scotland will be able to vote in the referendum when 16 and 17-year-old Scots will not? Mr Moore says he proposes the same rules for the electorate as those which elected the SNP government.


    In response to Mr Moore's statement, Scotland's Tory leader Ruth Davidson MSP says: "What the UK government is offering is to empower the Scottish people with the ability to hold a fair, legal and decisive referendum. Our constitutional future has to be decided by the Scottish people not the Scottish courts. Scotland has two governments and we are keen to work with the SNP to ensure that a vote is held that is legally sound."


    Lib Dem John Thurso appeals for mature opinion to be solicited in the consultation and not the "bleating from the playpen opposite".


    Louise Mensch, the Tory MP for Corby, which has an unusually large number of people of Scottish descent, wonders if they will be allowed to vote in the referendum. Mr Moore says he would encourage them to get involved in the consultation but there were not plans for people outside Scotland to be allowed to vote on Scottish independence.


    Ian Paisley Jnr, DUP MP, says uncertainty about the future of the union in Northern Ireland caused much damage. The Scottish Secretary says he would not draw a comparison between the situation in Northern ireland and that in Scotland. But Mr Moore adds that uncertainy is bad for Scotland.

    1756: Breaking News

    Autumn 2014 for the referendum on independence... Alex Salmond has told the BBC.


    Labour MP Cathy Jamieson asks if the "sunset clause" setting a date by which the referendum must be held has been ruled out. Mr Moore says it would be possible to include a date, but it would be important that this was agreed after the consultation.


    Bob Stewart, the Tory MP for Beckenham, asks how people of Scottish descent, like himself, can vote on the future of their "ancestral homeland".


    In response to further questioning on who will be eligible to vote in the referendum, Mr Moore says he proposes that it will be the same electorate which voted in the Scottish Parliament election.


    @KennyMacAskill At cabinet. Historic moment as preferred date of Autumn 2014 announced for referendum on independence


    Labour MP John Robertson asks how much the referendum is going to cost the British tax-payer. Mr Moore says there is a major historic decision to be made. There will be a cost, he says, but it is important the decision should be "fair and decisive".


    SNP MP Stewart Hosie asks for the name of one single company which has threatened not to investment in Scotland over the referendum.


    @NicolaSturgeon Following today's Cabinet meeting, FM announces that preferred date for Independence referendum is Autumn 2014 #indyref #snp


    Mr Moore says uncertainty is bad for business and bad for jobs. He says companies make decisions many years in advance and the uncertainty over the referendum was making that difficult.


    Labour MP Iain McKenzie says the SNP's refusal to hold the referendum indicates its inability to answer the questions which would arise.


    Mike Weir, SNP MP for Angus, criticises the claims that uncertainty over the referendum was affecting Scotland. He says the government always points to one Citigroup report to back up this claim.


    @BBCRaymondB Today has been alot about the "big mo" in the referendum debate - who has it, UK govt or ScotGov.


    Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem MP for East Dunbartonshire, said that the SNP's mandate was for a single "Yes/No" question on independence. She said the possible second question on Devo Max would cause confusion. The Scottish Secretary agreed that the two question proposals had many problems. He outlined the case, under the SNP plans, that if the Scottish people voted for both Devo Max and independence then independence would win, even if more people wanted Devo Max.


    Labour MP Katy Clark said the SNP would devote large resources to campaigning for independence. She asks what would be the government's position over campaigning. Mr Moore says that the Electoral Commission should oversee the referendum, using its experience to conduct the election fairly.


    SNP MP Angus MacNeil says there is academic opinion that says the Scottish government does have the power to hold a referendum. Mr Moore says he does not agree.


    Labour MP Wayne David finally informs Mr Moore of Alex Salmond giving a time period for the referendum. The Scottish Secretary again says that the Scottish government is not legally able to hold a referendum. There must be a discussion on how the referendum can be held, he says.

    Brian Taylor Political editor, Scotland

    First Minister Alex Salmond has told me: "The date for the referendum has to be the autumn of 2014. That's because this is the biggest decision that Scotland has made for 300 years. If you are going to do things properly and have the debate in the way it must be had then that is the date that we are going to move towards."


    The session is brought to a close by the deputy speaker. She says 57 MPs took part in the debate with Scottish Secretary Michael Moore.

    RE-CAP 1826:

    Well what a day. Let's re-cap on what has happened...

    • The UK government announces a consultation on the rules which they want to govern a future referendum
    • The Scottish government says it will publish details of its consultation later in the month
    • As MPs debated Scottish Secretary Michael Moore's statement, the SNP announced its preferred timescale for a referendum - Autumn 2014.

    That's it for our live video and text coverage of Scottish Secretary Michael Moore's statement to the House of Commons on the rules which might govern a future Scottish independence referendum. Continue to follow the story with the BBC on TV, radio and online.


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