Scottish independence: David Cameron and Alex Salmond sign referendum deal - as it happened

Follow the reaction to today’s historic meeting between the First Minister and the Prime Minister after they signed off the deal on the Scottish independence referendum in Edinburgh.

Join Scotland’s top political journalists here throughout the day for the latest news and analysis, and have your say below, or by emailing [email protected].

4.20pm: Labour leader Johann Lamont says the deal should allow Scotland to have a “fair and decisive” referendum.

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“Alex Salmond has the right to ask the question and now people have right to answer it,” Ms Lamont said.

“But we cannot allow this debate to distract from some of the real problems being faced by families in Scotland, things the SNP could act on now.

“Alex Salmond offers people only one solution to Scotland’s problems - a referendum on independence - but his timetable makes us wait another two years to have our say.”

3.45pm: Dr Nicola McEwen, Director of Public Policy at the Academy of Government and Co-Director of the Institute of Governance:

“This is an important agreement which settles many of the process issues. It has involved compromise and pragmatism on both sides. It presents an interesting contrast with developments in Spain, where the Spanish government has resisted calls for a referendum on Catalan independence.

“The UK government has been much more pragmatic, and promised to accept the outcome whatever it may be. This may in part reflect their confidence - in light of polling evidence - that a NO vote seems the most likely outcome at this stage. But two years is a long time in politics, and it is impossible to predict how opinion will develop.

“The agreement to hold a single question referendum on independence may provide clarity, but a substantial proportion of the electorate appears to want more Scottish self-government within the UK. Both sides will now be competing for their trust and support.

“One of the downsides of a single question referendum is that debate will inevitably become polarised between the two sides. The academic community has a key role to play in informing that debate in an impartial way.”

3pm: The Electoral Reform Society has expressed its disappointment over the referendum deal with a single Yes/No question. Willie Sullivan, Scottish Director of the Electoral Reform Society said:

“This referendum has become a bit of a game with both sides intent on rigging the deck. We now have a deal that suits the interests of a few dozen people in Edinburgh and Westminster and excludes a large section of the Scottish people who want more powers within the UK.

“The pressure is now on the Unionist Parties to explain if No means ‘No Change’ or No means ‘more powers’. If change is what’s on offer then it should be more than a politician’s promise: we need it enshrined in law before the vote.”

2.50pm: David Cameron: “I always wanted to show respect to the people of Scotland. They voted for a party that wanted to have a referendum. I’ve made that referendum possible and made sure it’s decisive, it’s legal and it’s fair, and I think that’s right for the people of Scotland.”

Asked what he gets back when he has given Mr Salmond control of both the date and who votes, he replied: “What we have is what I always wanted, which is one single question, not two questions, not devo max, a very simple single question that has to be put before the end of 2014 so we end the uncertainty, we put beyond doubt Scotland’s position either within the United Kingdom, as I hope, or separating itself from the United Kingdom, one single simple question.

“That for me was always the key. Now we’ve dealt with the process, now we should get on with the real argument, and I passionately believe Scotland will be better off with the United Kingdom but also crucially the United Kingdom will be better off with Scotland. We’re better off together, we’re stronger together, we’re safer together. Let the arguments now be put, and I hope that people will vote to keep this United Kingdom together.”

2.40pm: On the betting front, William Hill are offering odds of 9/4 on Scots backing independence come the vote and 1/3 for a No vote.

2.35pm: Speaking after the signing ceremony, First Minister Alex Salmond said: “The Edinburgh Agreement, signed by the Scottish and UK governments today, marks a significant step in Scotland’s Home Rule journey. Importantly, it will ensure that the biggest decision the people of our country will make for many generations is made here in Scotland for the benefit of all of those that live and work here.

“This will be a referendum designed and delivered by the Scottish Parliament. Today’s accord marks agreement on the process and respect for the outcome, from both sides. In my view, it paves the way for a new partnership in these islands.

“The Scottish Government has an ambitious vision for Scotland: a prosperous and successful European country, reflecting Scottish values of fairness and opportunity, promoting equality and social cohesion. A Scotland with a new place in the world - as an independent nation.

“Today’s historic signing of the Edinburgh Agreement marks the start of the campaign to fulfil that ambition. It will be a campaign during which we will present our positive, ambitious vision for a flourishing, fairer, progressive, independent Scotland - a vision I am confident will win the argument and deliver a Yes vote in Autumn 2014.”

2.30pm: The Scottish Government has published details of the so-called ‘Edinburgh Agreement’ on its website...

“The United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government have agreed to work together to ensure that a referendum on Scottish independence can take place.

The governments are agreed that the referendum should:

• have a clear legal base

• be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament

• be conducted so as to command the confidence of parliaments, governments and people

• deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect”

1.45pm: Mr Cameron leaves St Andrews House without making any comment, but Scottish Government sources confirm a deal has been signed. He is accompanied outside by the Scottish Secretary who stays behind to brief the press later on details of the agreement.

1.25pm: Dozens of journalists and photographers are crammed into a makeshift pen outside St Andrews House awaiting news from the talks inside.

A disquieting atmosphere looms over the place as security forces the closure of Regent Street outside. Barely a dozen members of the public have stopped to witness the “historic” events.

1.10pm: Alex Salmond and David Cameron have signed the deal to hold the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.

12.55pm: Professor Robert Hazell, director of the influential Constitution Unit at University College London, says David Cameron has drawn first blood after securing the single yes/no question on independence, with no third option on more powers for Holyrood short of separation.

He said: “The UK government has won the first round, in particular through insisting on a single question. Of all the issues being negotiated, Salmond wanted most a second question on Devo Max. But the UK government had the upper hand, through controlling access to Westminster to authorise the referendum. They had to be seen to offer Salmond something, and it was worth conceding on the timing of the referendum, and votes for 16-17 year olds, in order to ensure a single question.”

12.30pm: The Scotsman’s Eddie Barnes on Twitter: “Cameron wearing serious face as he enters St Andrew’s House. Handshakes all round. Salmond gets his Gorby-Reagan moment.”

12noon: Prime Minister David Cameron arrives at St Andrews House for negotiations, as Tory leader in Scotland Ruth Davidson insists Scots have the “best of both worlds” as part of the United Kingdom. “We’ve got the size and scope of being in the UK which means we share the risks and rewards,” she says. Scotland also has the “best fighting force in the world” as part of the British armed forces.

11.30am: The role of Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary Michael in securing the deal is hailed by the party’s Scottish leader Willie Rennie amid “heated voices” over the past year on both sides of the debate.

“On the one hand some nationalists rejected any assistance from Westminster even though that could have dragged the referendum into the courts and years of legal wrangling,” Mr Rennie said.

“On the other the voices from the Lords demanded that Westminster should run the referendum as the nationalists could not be trusted.

“Mike Moore sought to come to a reasonable agreement with a referendum which was made in Scotland by the Scottish Government but which was endorsed by Westminster to make it legal, fair and decisive.”

10.50am: Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon arrive at St Andrews House to prepare for the talks with their Westminster counterparts. Ms Sturgeon says earlier that the referendum is a “once in a generation event” , but insists that she will “never stop arguing” for independence.

“Independence gives the Scottish Parliament here in Edinburgh the political and economic powers we need to get our economy growing faster and get a welfare system that reflects our values,” she adds.

10am: Alex Salmond and David Cameron will meet at the Scottish Government’s St Andrews House headquarters in Edinburgh when the deal will be agreed after more than a year of fraught negotiations. Both men carried out official visits earlier this morning.

The Prime Minister signalled the importance of the UK defence industry to Scotland’s economy with a visit to Rosyth dockyards, the assembly site of the largest warship ever ordered by Royal Navy. Mr Salmond joined his Deputy Nicola Sturgeon as they met nurses, parents and children at NHS Lothian’s Family Nurse Partnership programme.

“The agreement will see Scotland take an important step toward independence, and the means to create a fairer and more prosperous Scotland. I look forward to working positively for a yes vote in 2014,” he said ahead of the meeting.

The SNP secured a mandate to hold the referendum by winning an unprecedented majority at Holyrood last year. The campaign picked up pace in February with a visit from the Prime Minister, followed by the formal launches of the pro-independence Yes Scotland and pro-Union Better Together cross-party movements.

Negotiations between the governments have been led by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the UK Government’s Scottish Secretary Michael Moore.

Mr Cameron said in a speech today the deal will leave it “up to the people of Scotland” to make that historic decision. He added: “The very future of Scotland depends on their verdict. It is that important. This agreement delivers the people’s referendum.”

The most recent poll on independence suggests support for leaving the UK has dropped. A survey of 995 adults, published last week, showed support for the Union at 53% compared with support for independence at 28%.

9.40am: Speaking on the radio this morning, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has denied that the Scottish Government had been out-negotiated by the UK Government because it had failed to secure a “devo-max” second question on the referendum ballot paper.

She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “No, that’s not how I see it. We have never said we wanted a second question on the ballot paper. What we did say was that option shouldn’t be ruled out prematurely; it would have been better left to the Scottish Parliament to decide that. But in any negotiation there has to be compromise. Both sides have compromised but overall I’m very satisfied that we have a deal that guarantees a referendum made in Scotland.”

The SNP’s deputy leader insisted that the party had initially put forward plans for a second option on the ballot paper because there are “many people who think that is their preferred outcome”.

“We think a referendum above all else should be democratic and should be about making sure people can have their say in an open way.”

9.30am: Scottish Secretary Michael Moore underlines the significance of the deal on BBC Radio Scotland today: “What we’re focused on today is a very important agreement which will allow us to have a referendum to make the most important political decision in our lives, in fact the most important political decision in Scotland’s 300 years, so we have a referendum on independence that is legal, that is fair and is decisive and crucially is made in Scotland, and all of those are things I said we wanted to achieve when we began this process back in January, and I’m really delighted that working constructively with the Scottish Government that’s what we’ve now achieved.”

Asked whether the referendum would be an opportunity for people to say whether or not they like the Westminster Government, he replied: “I think this is a very different kind of referendum, this is about the very existence of Scotland and how it continues, whether it’s part of the UK or a separate country.”

Mr Moore said people would have to weigh up whether it is better to remain part of the Union. He said: “The opportunities in continuing to be part of the United Kingdom are strong. Our place in the world - we have much more clout as part of the UK at the top table at the United Nations and Nato, in the European Union, we’ve got much greater security as part of an economy, the fourth largest defence spender in the world, lots of jobs dependent on that. I think these are the issues that people are going to focus on and that will be much more powerful than an uncertain prospect. What we’ve not had so far is anybody spelling out what independence will look like, lots of risks attached to it which have not yet been thought through by the SNP.”

More on today’s referendum talks...