Alexander 'wants poll in 12 months'
WENDY Alexander, the Scottish Labour leader, has revealed she wants a referendum on independence within the next 12 months, with the public being offered a simple "yes or no" vote on separation.
Following her U-turn at the weekend, Ms Alexander yesterday gave more details of how she sees a referendum proceeding.
Sources close to Ms Alexander have made it clear that while she is currently challenging Alex Salmond, the First Minister, to bring forward a bill now, Labour may do it themselves to get an early vote.
Ms Alexander said yesterday that she was "attracted by there being a straight choice for or against independence".
If this happens in 12 months, the Scottish Constitutional Commission on devolution, chaired by Sir Kenneth Calman and initiated by Ms Alexander, will not have reported.
However, Sir Kenneth yesterday insisted it would be "business as usual".
Last night, a spokesman for Ms Alexander said: "A tipping point has been reached. It is now clear the general election will not take place for some time and window of opportunity has opened.
"It is not in Scotland's interests to delay (a referendum for] another three years.
He added: "The SNP should not have four years of fraying the relationship (with the UK] in Scotland's name. Mr Salmond wants to delay because he knows the SNP cannot win at the moment. Meanwhile, the overall uncertainty is bad for Scotland."
It is unclear whether Labour would get the required support in Holyrood for their plans, with opposition coming from both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy First Minister, said: "We will stick to what we offered the people; demonstrating credibility in government, engaging with the people through our national conversation and bringing forward a referendum in 2010."
Scottish Labour MPs, who are to meet tonight to discuss the issue, were yesterday divided on Ms Alexander's plan.
John Robertson, the Labour MP for Glasgow North West, said the issue was "a battle we will win".
But Ian Davidson, MP for Glasgow South West, said he was "surprised" by the timing of Ms Alexander's announcement.
And one Labour MP asked if Ms Alexander "was off her head", adding: "What is she thinking?"
A source close to Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister said: "We have no plans to initiate a referendum. If the Labour Party in Scotland wants to take a position, that's a matter for them."
Key questions on the road to a vote on independence
When would a referendum take place?
Wendy Alexander and Labour appear to prefer a quick referendum in the hope a 'no' vote will take the wind out of the SNP's sails and neuter the issue in a general election expected in 2010.
Alex Salmond and the SNP have made it clear they want to bring an independence referendum bill forward in 2010. This, Mr Salmond claims, will give them time to prove themselves in government and build up the case for independence.
But it will also allow them to use the referendum, or non-referendum if it is blocked by the Unionist parties, as the basis for their Westminster election campaign in 2010 and Holyrood election campaign in 2011.
What form would it take?
Depending on the timing, the referendum would either be a yes or no question on independence or would be a multi-option question on independence, more powers for the Scottish Parliament or the status quo.
The multi-option version would happen if the Scottish Constitutional Commission on developing devolution, chaired by Sir Kenneth Calman, was able to report before the referendum took place.
Mr Salmond has suggested the multi-option version could be done on a single transferable vote basis, but this could allow independence in on a minority vote.
What questions would be asked?
Three options have been mooted:
Should Scotland be independent? Yes or no.
Or: Which of the following do you prefer, Independence, more powers for Scotland or the status quo?
Or Question 1: Do you want independence? Question 2: If devolution continues, do you want the Scottish Parliament to have more powers?
How would a referendum be set up?
Constitutional matters are reserved for Westminster and, in theory, need an Act of Parliament there. However, there is nothing to stop the Scottish Parliament voting through its own "consultative" referendum, which would then be politically difficult for Westminster to ignore.
Who would run the referendum?
At the moment, it would be Westminster because of the provisions of the Scotland Act.
However, votes may be transferred to Scotland because of the recommendations in the Gould Report following the debacle in last year's Scottish elections, which led to more than 140,000 ballot papers being classified as spoiled.
Also, if the Scottish Parliament had a "consultative" referendum, it could run it itself.
What sort of majority would be needed?
In the 1979 referendum, 40 per cent of the electorate as well as majority of those who voted had to support independence.
Famously, the independence vote was higher, but the 40 per cent threshold was not reached, partly because deceased voters still on the electoral roll were included. They were effectively voting against independence by not going to vote.
More recently, devolution referenda in Scotland and Wales merely needed a straight majority.
What are the chances of Scotland becoming independent?
At the moment, polls suggest that the SNP's popularity is high but support for independence is low. However, if the issue became mixed up with a popularity contest between Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond, on current standings, it could swing in the direction of independence.
If people vote against independence, would this be the end of the issue and the SNP?
Labour has made it clear that they are opposed to the idea of a "neverendum" as has happened in Quebec in Canada. There, constant failures for the region to vote for independence have led independence parties to keep bringing the question back.
It is likely the SNP would try to do this if it lost because it would lose its reason to exist. The party would be in a stronger position to do this if it polled around 40 per cent in favour of independence.
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