Scottish independence: SNP avoid naming vote date

Alex Salmond. Picture: Jane Barlow
Alex Salmond. Picture: Jane Barlow
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ALEX Salmond has faced calls from opposition parties to name the referendum date and spell out his plans for an independent Scotland ahead of the vote on whether to leave the UK.

He was challenged at First Minister’s Questions to be “straight” with the public over the exact timing of the referendum, after politicians agreed a revised version of the question Scots will be asked at an undisclosed point in autumn 2014.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said “the people of Scotland have made it clear they want clear, honest information”, a day after the Electoral Commission rejected the SNP’s preferred wording for the referendum ballot paper.

Mr Salmond had wanted to ask: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” However, he accepted the commission’s preferred question: “Should Scotland be an independent country”.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said the First Minister’s reluctance to name a date revealed a “coy reticence”.

She said: “Now the Electoral Commission report has been widely accepted by all sides of the chamber, we know the spending limits and the question for the referendum but, as mentioned, there is a piece of the jigsaw missing. Can the First Minister tell the people of Scotland what is the exact date on which the referendum takes place?

“If the referendum is the property of the people of Scotland, why can’t he be straight with them?”

Mr Salmond said a bill containing the date would be published in March.

The First Minister was also heavily criticised over his claim that an independent Scotland would automatically be handed membership of the EU, after Ireland’s Europe minister said the country would have to formally apply to join.

Lucinda Creighton was reported to have said an independent Scotland would be welcomed into the EU but would need to apply and go through a lengthy process after any Yes vote in 2014.

Ms Lamont, claimed the SNP had “bombarded” and “pilloried” critics of the SNP’s position on Europe.

She said: “How do the people of Scotland have faith in the information supplied by the Scottish Government when they so often have been forced to admit they are wrong? People want information so they can make a judgment on what an independent Scotland would look like.

“So far, isn’t it the case that all we know is it will be a land where you’re not allowed to disagree with Alex Salmond.”

Mr Salmond insisted the unionist parties could not “seriously doubt” an oil-rich, independent Scotland would be handed EU membership.

He said: “We’ll conduct our debate for an independent Scotland in a positive manner. I wonder if the Better Together campaign of Labour and Tories can match that commitment.”