Scottish independence: Michael Moore calls for early referendum

Michael Moore Scottish Secretary Michael Moore was appearing before the Scottish Affairs Committee

The Scottish secretary has set out a timetable he said would allow an independence referendum to be held in September 2013.

The Scottish government has already said it intends to hold the referendum a year later than that.

But Michael Moore said there was "no good reason" why the Scottish people should have to wait almost three years for the vote.

The SNP dismissed Mr Moore's timetable as a "silly distraction".

The Scottish government's Parliamentary Business Secretary Bruce Crawford said: "The more they try to dictate the terms of the referendum from Westminster, the more unpopular the anti-independence parties will become, and the more popular independence will be."

He added: "We have published a detailed timetable to hold the referendum in autumn 2014, and that is when it shall be held."

In a statement issued by Mr Moore, who was giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster as part of its ''Referendum on Separation for Scotland'' inquiry, he claimed his timetable would meet all the legal and procedural requirements for the referendum to be held.

The Lib Dem MP said: "No-one has yet explained to me why the people of Scotland should have to wait nearly three years to make the most important decision we will ever make. It is not in the interests of the Scottish people to build up uncertainty and make them wait.

"The timetable I have produced today shows there is no good reason for the Scottish government's go slow approach. We can follow all the proper procedures and parliamentary processes and still have a referendum in September 2013.

"Recent polls have certainly indicated that people think we should get on with the referendum and hold it sooner than 2014. That certainly makes sense to me."

According to the Scottish government's timetable, a Referendum Bill will be introduced at Holyrood early next year.

Consideration of the legislation would end in October 2013 and Royal Assent would follow in November.

The Scottish government would then introduce a White Paper on Independence before holding the referendum in autumn 2014.

Mr Moore said that the Scottish government outlined plans in 2009 where they proposed consulting, drafting a bill, legislating and holding a referendum all within 12 months.

Start Quote

Just days after claiming he would be positive and more powers were on the table, David Cameron now cannot name a single power that he would devolve”

End Quote Angus MacNeil MP SNP

The UK government minister added: "The timetable the Scottish government have set out has heel-dragging built into it. There are months and months set aside for straightforward tasks.

"Their consultation finishes in May and they then propose taking the whole summer to analyse responses and then the rest of the year to amend their draft bill accordingly. That could be done properly in a much shorter time frame."

Properly analysed

He called on both the UK and Scottish governments to work through the issues they do not agree on to "produce a referendum that is legal, fair and decisive".

"If we can negotiate a Section 30 Order to transfer the legal powers to Holyrood then we can give the people of Scotland their say in a referendum next year. That's a timetable made in the interest of people in Scotland, not politicians in parliaments," he said.

The SNP's Bruce Crawford said: "The Scotland Office timetable is flawed and full of holes.

"We have already secured thousands of responses to our consultation, and these will be properly analysed in the summer.

"This autumn and winter there needs to be a minimum of 10 weeks to test the ballot paper - as required by the Electoral Commission.

"Also, it would be totally inappropriate to enact a bill of this importance and magnitude between autumn and March, without allowing for a proper period of parliamentary scrutiny.

"In any event, it is simply not for the Secretary of State to dictate the legislative timetable of the Scottish Parliament."

Scottish Labour's external affairs spokeswoman Patricia Ferguson said: "Donald Dewar held a referendum within 134 days of being elected.

"On Alex Salmond's timescale, it will take him seven and a half years.

"The longer he delays, the more it fuels suspicion.

"There is nothing in the SNP manifesto which prevents them hold a referendum now, and the slower they go the more it looks like they fear the verdict of the Scottish people, who overwhelmingly back devolution not separation."

More powers

The issue of independence also came up at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, when David Cameron said that Scotland and England had been great partners in a United Kingdom.

Mr Cameron had said during a visit to Edinburgh last week that he would consider more powers for Scotland, in the event of a vote against independence in the referendum.

But he failed to say what these powers would be when asked by SNP MP Angus MacNeil.

Mr MacNeil later said it was clear the Conservatives are in a "state of disarray and division" over the issue of more powers for the Scottish Parliament.

He added: "Just days after claiming he would be positive and more powers were on the table, David Cameron now cannot name a single power that he would devolve. If his claims in Scotland were genuine he now has a democratic duty to set out exactly what is on offer.

"The Tories appear totally divided on Scotland's constitutional future with David Cameron claiming more powers are a possibility, while Ruth Davidson's position is that of the Scotland Bill as her "line in the sand".

"Who are Scottish voters to believe: the Prime Minister with his promises of 'jam tomorrow', or Ms Davidson with her refusal to even consider an improvement to the inadequate Scotland Bill?"

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