Independence referendum: Scots to have trio of choices
SCOTLAND is heading for a single referendum that will give the people the chance to vote for three options – an independence-lite constitutional settlement, full separation from the UK or the status quo.
Alex Salmond last night gave his strongest signal yet that he favoured a two-question ballot that would enable the people to decide between those three options, as a fuller picture began to emerge about the choices facing the country.
The First Minister provided some clarity about the form of the referendum during a week that has seen much confusion created by the constitutional wrangling between the Scottish and UK governments.
Mr Salmond said he would not "limit" the ballot to a single independence question while warning the UK government to stay away from "a Westminster imperial seizing" of the referendum.
His endorsement of an independence-lite option came as it became increasingly clear that Scottish Secretary Michael Moore's idea that the electorate would need to vote in two referendums before Scotland could become independent had been rejected by his UK Cabinet colleagues.
Mr Moore was present at discussions on the constitution held yesterday between Mr Salmond and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister.
Earlier in the week Mr Moore had suggested that the first referendum would be held to determine whether the Scottish people favoured the principle of independence.
He then said a second plebiscite would have to be held in order to ratify a deal brokered by the UK and Scottish governments over what share of national debt, north sea oil revenues and the armed services would be taken by an independent Scotland.
But after his meeting with Mr Salmond in Edinburgh, Mr Clegg left Mr Moore looking isolated when he said that the Scottish people would get "lost" in the "arcane" detail of a two referendum scenario and would prefer a simple choice.
With Mr Moore standing beside him on the steps of Scottish Government headquarters at St Andrew's House, the Deputy Prime Minister said that Scotland faced a straightforward choice between the "disruption and uncertainty" of independence or a "stronger, more prosperous, more autonomous Scotland with more powers within the UK".
Mr Clegg said: "I have to say to you that at the end of the day, many people across Scotland will be lost in a lot of the legal and constitutional detail, of which quite a lot is arcane. Because what they really want to know is not so much the vehicle for this or that decision but what is the choice. In my view the choice is really quite simple."
Conservatives have been extremely critical of Mr Moore, saying that holding two referendums would harm the cause of the Unionists, because Scots would be discouraged from voting "No" in the first vote because the second one gave them a get-out clause.
Mr Salmond ridiculed the two referendums idea when he was asked about suggestions that David Cameron is considering organising the referendum from Westminster in an attempt to save the Union.
Firing a shot across the Prime Minister's bows, Mr Salmond said: "I think if I may say so, the idea of a Westminster imperial seizing of questions in the referendum is about as likely as a two referendum scenario.
"John Maynard Keynes once said that there is no limit to the ideas that you might think become sensible, however nonsense, if one thought too long alone. I think some of the ideas that I have seen ventilated in recent times are the result of people thinking too long alone."
The First Minister was reacting to reports that Mr Cameron was setting up a high-powered Cabinet committee to fight plans for independence.
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The Prime Minister has decided to take charge of the issue from Westminster and is expected to appoint George Osborne, the Chancellor, and Mr Clegg to the committee as well as Mr Moore and his Conservative deputy David Mundell.
After his meeting with Mr Clegg, the First Minister put more flesh on the bones of his referendum vision.
"I can see the case for having another direct question on another proposition. Have we had two questions in a Scottish referendum before? Yes, we had it in 1997 if you remember," Mr Salmond said.
"I realise the virtue in having a straight questions and straight answers. But I don't limit it necessarily to just one question on one proposition. All I can tell you is that the proposition – independence – in which I believe will be on that ballot."
In the devolution referendum of 1997, the electorate was asked in the first question whether they agreed that there should be a Scottish Parliament. The second question asked whether they believed the parliament should have tax-varying powers.
Those questions meant that there were three options: the then status quo (full Westminster control); a Scottish Parliament without tax-raising powers; or a Scottish Parliament with tax-raising powers.
A similar system this time could see the introduction of the option of independence-lite or full fiscal autonomy – substantially more powers being granted to Holyrood while Scotland remains within the UK.
Mr Salmond said: "Clearly because this is our major objective as political party and a government we have spent some considerable time working through this – what is within the province of the parliament and what is democratic and what is fair and what the ability to do it is. We are going to do it. We are going to do it in the time scale I indicated during the election campaign from which we received an overwhelming mandate."
When pressed on the precise form that full fiscal autonomy would take, Mr Salmond refused to be drawn saying: "You are leading me too far."
However, most analysts agreed that independence-lite would be a settlement similar to what used to be known as Home Rule, with Scotland remaining in the Union yet having power over domestic affairs including the vast majority of tax-raising powers and benefits. Policies such as defence and foreign affairs would remain with Westminster.
Mr Salmond said: "We have no interest in doing anything other than making a clear question so that people can vote yes or no. The question as to whether there is a second proposition which could also be put, I have left open because I do know that there are is a substantial body of opinion in Scotland which says that is an option.
"But it is not being articulated as a political party at the moment. But sometimes there are options that have an legitimacy which doesn't necessarily at any one point in time get reflected by a political party."
Mr Clegg warned against independence. He said: "There is not much middle ground. You either believe in a stronger more prosperous, more autonomous Scotland with more powers over time within the UK, or you make the case for what I consider to be disruption and financial uncertainty of Scotland going it alone, and that's the thing.
"Let's concentrate on the substance of that key choice rather than the means by which that choice will finally be put to the people sometimes in the future."
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