British, Scottish leaders to sign independence vote deal
- Published: 15/10/2012 at 07:49 PM
- Online news:
Britain's prime minister and Scotland's first minister are to approve plans Monday for a referendum on Scottish independence, in a move that could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom after 300 years.
View of Edinburgh castle and the Nelson monument in Calton Hill. Britain's prime minister and Scotland's first minister are to approve plans for a referendum on Scottish independence, in a move that could lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom after 300 years.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who opposes a Scottish breakaway, will sign the deal in Edinburgh with Scotland's pro-independence First Minister Alex Salmond, firing the starting gun on two years of campaigning.
After months of negotiations, London is expected to give Scotland's administration the power to conduct the referendum in the autumn of 2014, offering Scots a straight yes-no question on leaving the United Kingdom.
"Scotland's two governments have come together to deliver a referendum that will be legal, fair and decisive," Cameron is expected to say, according to a draft of his remarks released ahead of the meeting.
"It paves the way so that the biggest question of all can be settled: a separate Scotland or a United Kingdom? I will be making a very positive argument for our United Kingdom.
"It is now up to the people of Scotland to make that historic decision."
Cameron's Conservatives will be joined by their Liberal Democrat coalition partners in the British parliament and the opposition Labour party in urging voters to keep Britain together.
The marathon campaign will pit them against Salmond's Scottish National Party (SNP), the majority party in the devolved Edinburgh parliament.
The independence campaign has celebrity backing from James Bond star Sean Connery, but support among Scots is slipping, with a survey by pollsters TNS-BMRB released last week showing 28 percent in favour and 53 percent opposed.
Salmond has said he wants independence "not because I think we are better than any other country, but because I know that we are as good as any other country".
Scotland's Daily Record newspaper declared: "After a weekend of international football, the referendum deal today has all the hallmarks of a battle on the pitch."
Its commentator added: "David Cameron is playing away from home against a fancied opponent but despite the roar and the flag-waving of the Salmond supporters, (Monday's) game looks like it will end in a draw with both sides claiming a moral victory."
The SNP had pressed for the 2014 date, giving them time to try to win over voters and coinciding with the anniversary of the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn -- a famous Scots victory over the English. The vote is expected to break new ground by including 16 and 17-year-olds, a move favoured by Salmond's side, but in a concession to the British government the ballot paper will not offer a third option of increased devolution.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon denied that the lack of this option was a defeat for the Scottish government.
She told BBC radio: "We have never said we wanted a second question on the ballot paper. What we did say was that option shouldn't be ruled out prematurely.
"But in any negotiation there has to be compromise. Both sides have compromised but overall I'm very satisfied that we have a deal that guarantees a referendum made in Scotland."
Michael Moore, the British minister responsible for Scotland, said it was stronger as part of the United Kingdom.
"The opportunities in continuing to be part of the United Kingdom are strong," he told BBC radio.
"We have much more clout as part of the UK at the top table at the United Nations and NATO, in the European Union, we've got much greater security as part of an economy, the fourth largest defence spender in the world, lots of jobs (are) dependent on that."
The wording of the question for the referendum must be submitted to Britain's Electoral Commission for approval, but Scotland has held a consultation using the question "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"
Salmond, who has pushed for a referendum since his party won a majority in the Scottish parliament in May 2011, says Scotland -- which has a population of five million -- should be able to run its own foreign, economic and defence policies.
The devolved Scottish government currently has powers over areas such as health and education, as well as a separate legal system.
A potential separation raises questions about what would happen to revenues from North Sea oil reserves.
Salmond has said he wants to retain the sterling currency and the British monarch as head of state.
About the author
- Writer: AFP
Position: News agency