Scottish independence: Salmond ‘is stalling over referendum question’
ALEX Salmond has been accused of stalling on key talks aimed breaking the deadlock over the question Scots will be asked in the independence referendum.
The First Minister wants a third option of more powers for Holyrood, known as devo-max, to remain on the table, but the UK government insists it must be a straight Yes/No on leaving the UK.
But yesterday pro-Union campaign leaders warned that Mr Salmond may be deliberately attempting to “muddy the waters” as support for independence wanes.
A series of talks had been earmarked between the First Minister and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore to resolve the impasse. One meeting was held four months ago, but the SNP leader has yet to get back round the table.
A Whitehall source said last night: “There’s frustration that the First Minister seems unwilling to go ahead with talks.”
The Scotland Office is believed to have been seeking talks since the SNP’s own referendum consultation closed early last month, but Mr Salmond has not agreed to a date.
A Scotland Office spokesman said yesterday: “The First Minister has said that he’s prepared to sit down and talk to Michael in the future, but we don’t have a specific day or time or anything like that.”
A spokesman for Mr Salmond said the responses to the Scottish Government’s consultation are being analysed and the referendum bill and white paper will follow this.
He also called for Westminster to give Holyrood the legal right to stage the referendum “without any strings”, adding: “The main thing is that this should be a referendum made in Scotland, as Michael Moore himself is on record as saying.”
The criticism came as former chancellor Alistair Darling called on the SNP to get on with holding a straight Yes/No referendum as he launched the campaign to stay in the Union.
Mr Darling said the Scottish Government could hold its own “consultative” referendum, for which it did not need permission, but it would be open to legal challenge from anyone.
He said: “The safer way, to make sure the thing is legally wateright, is to devolve the power from Westminster under the Scotland Act to the Scottish Government to hold it. That’s my preferred course of action.”
Asked whether Mr Salmond was trying to get out of the whole process, he added: “I’ve this growing feeling that he’s looking at the polling evidence and coming to the view that anything that muddies the water might help his cause.
“But we’ve come so far in the six months of this year. Expectations have now been raised in Scotland that we’re going to get to vote in a referendum and I would be very, very hesitant to suggest that any politician should stand in the way of that.
“It’s far better that people should be given the choice on this issue, and for goodness sake let’s do it – don’t let it keep going for another 30 or 40 years.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government’s policy is independence, and the straightforward, fair question on independence is the one we have outlined in the consultation paper.
“At the same time, we recognise that there is substantial support across Scotland for increased responsibilities for the Scottish Parliament short of independence. A number of opposition politicians and representatives of civil society are on record as agreeing that it is important that an option of further devolution should be considered.”
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