Scottish independence: Alex Salmond signals deal on second question
ALEX Salmond has given the strongest indication yet that he has given up on the prospect of a second question appearing on the independence referendum ballot paper.
The First Minister conceded the UK government “won’t offer” a third option on more powers for Holyrood – but said that Scots who would have backed “devo-max” could now be instrumental in
delivering a “yes” vote for independence.
Meanwhile, the Holyrood and Westminster governments ordered officials to start work on Monday, on a “package” to hold the historic vote after the two sides reached an “advanced stage” in talks about the format of the referendum. Opponents accused Mr Salmond of
“admitting defeat”, following claims he favoured the third option to secure some degree of change in Scotland’s constitutional status if voters rejected outright independence.
The SNP leader, who is travelling to the US today ahead of this weekend’s Ryder Cup golf tournament, said in an interview with the LA Times newspaper that independence is “regularly” more popular among Scots than the status quo or the devo-max option, also known as full fiscal autonomy.
He said: “The UK government is clearly not willing to offer devo-max or fiscal autonomy as an option. So I suspect … a lot’s going to depend on people who support economic powers for the [Scottish] Parliament but find that the UK government’s stopping them being able to move forward . . . I think people in these circumstances would want a change.”
The SNP government has insisted it will assess the views of civic Scotland and that the results of 26,000 responses on the referendum consultation will be published in the coming weeks. However, there has been no concerted campaign for a third option on more powers.
But many senior Nationalists believe that a second question would only split the vote for change, while a straight “yes” or “no” will maximise support for full independence.
Clyde Blowers tycoon Jim McColl, previously a supporter of full fiscal autonomy, announced recently in an article in The Scotsman that the likely absence of a “more powers” option on the ballot paper had persuaded him to back full independence.
The SNP administration has already won agreement to stage the vote in 2014, the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn and just months after the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup are staged in Scotland.
Scottish Government demands that 16 and 17-year-old be granted the vote – unlike elections for Holyrood, Westminster and councils where the voting age is 18 – are also understood to have been accepted.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has now asked officials to draw up a package that will deliver the vote in 2014 after her latest meeting with Scottish Secretary Michael Moore yesterday.
A further meeting between the pair will take place to finalise the plans before Mr Salmond stages talks with Prime Minister David Cameron next month to sign-off the deal.
A joint statement released by the Scottish and UK governments after yesterday’s talks said: “Substantial progress has been made today, and at previous meetings, on the ground work for an agreement and in discussing the detail of individual
“We now need to see these individual issues in totality, and have asked officials to put together a package over the next few days. We will discuss again whether the proposed package has reached a form we are able to recommend the full agreement to the First Minister and the Prime Minister.”
The First Minister’s wide ranging interview also revealed he is proud of Scotland’s role in the UK.
“In the last 300 years there have been a variety of things which I’m proud of Scotland being part of – a Britain that resisted Nazism in Europe in the 1940s, for example,” he said.
Mr Salmond accepted that “true Scots” may not support independence, citing the example of his late mother who did not vote SNP for “most of her days”, although she did towards the end of her life.
Negotiations over the right to stage the referendum dragged on throughout the summer, with the First Minister holding initial talks with Mr Cameron in February.
Control over the constitution is outwith the power of the SNP administration in Edinburgh and instead lies with Westminster. Mr Salmond is adamant that he could press on with his own referendum, but most experts agree it would not be legally binding without a “Section 30” order being transferred from London. Without this, the result of any vote could be challenged in court.
A Scotland Office spokesman said the “package” for discussion includes issues such as the single question, extending the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds, broadcasting rights and spending limits.
“It’s looking pretty good,” he said. “We have made a lot of progress. “Now the officials will draft [the package] along the lines that we have discussed and then we will start talking about the specific terminology rather than the high principle stuff.
“It’s a pretty usual process which works well when we do it on less emotive issues. It broadly follows the same shape.
“The officials will now draft something for both sides to look at and further discuss. It means they will have something a lot more honed down and specific.”
However, he said they have yet to reach an agreement on all of the points. He added: “That’s not where we are as yet, but again that’s not unusual.
Labour Scottish affairs spokeswoman Margaret Curran said: “It would appear Alex Salmond has finally admitted defeat in his campaign for a second prize in the referendum, but he doesn’t even have the decency to tell the people of Scotland first.
“First, he tells his pal Rupert Murdoch his planned referendum date and now he tells the US press there will only be a single question before his consultation has been published.
“The First Minister continues to treat the people of Scotland with utter contempt by refusing to be open about the referendum process and misrepresenting their views.”
But a spokesman for the First Minister insisted “more and more” Scots now see independence as the only way to secure change. “Labour’s backing for the Tories and Lib Dems in opposing new powers for the Scottish Parliament will only succeed in persuading more people to vote ‘yes’ to an independent Scotland,” he said.
“More and more people across Scotland, including Jim McColl, one of the country’s leading job creators, now see independence as the only way to guarantee the tools Scotland needs to boost jobs, build economic recovery and create a fairer society.
“This is Scotland’s referendum, and the arrangements for it should be made in Scotland, not dictated by Westminster.
“All of the relevant issues governing the referendum, including that of a second question – which has significant support amongst the public and civic society – must be determined in the interests of the people of Scotland, not in the narrow interests of any political party.”
Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman David McLetchie said: “Alex Salmond appears to be now catching up on what everyone else already knew. That is that a second question was never capable of being formulated, and the First Minster has made chumps out of the people who argued for it.”
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the First Minister had “failed” to convince Scots how any second question on the ballot would work.
“Alex Salmond flees to the other side of the Atlantic to make the embarrassing admission that he has lost the argument for a second question,” he said. “He can now get on with answering the many questions people have on his plans.”
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Monday 20 May 2013
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