Salmond fights to keep independence referendum plan alive

FIRST Minister Alex Salmond today attempted to sidestep his political opponents and keep alive plans for an independence referendum.

The bill will now be published in draft form, allowing it to go out to consultation and extend its life beyond the "febrile" atmosphere of the forthcoming general election.

He said: "It was the intent, in my estimation, of the Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat parties to grab control of the referendum Bill and dispose of it as quickly as they possibly could.

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"Therefore I think it's far better that the people of Scotland get the opportunity over the next two to three months or so to look at the shape of the bill, in legislative terms, and to consult people on what is the remaining question that we have on the bill."

The proposals could feature two distinct questions: one on support for independence and one on support for devolving more power to Holyrood.

The second question could include Calman Commission proposals, set up by Unionist parties to consider the way ahead for devolution, or so-called "devolution max" which would extend power.

Mr Salmond's tactics were prompted by "clearly telegraphed" moves by opposition parties to take control from the SNP, he said.

If the Bill was published in its final form, as expected until today, it would have gone to a special committee for consideration.

But with opposition parties all vehemently opposed to the SNP's referendum proposal, it could have been killed off within weeks.