Salmond hails deal on Scottish vote

Tue, Oct 16, 2012, 01:00

SCOTTISH PEOPLE will face the most important decision “for generations” when they vote in the October 2014 independence referendum, Scottish first minister Alex Salmond said yesterday.

Mr Salmond was speaking shortly after reaching a deal on the referendum with British prime minister David Cameron.

Describing it as “the Edinburgh agreement”, Mr Salmond said the deal marked “a significant step in Scotland’s home rule journey”, ensuring “the biggest decision the people of our country will make for many generations is made here in Scotland”.

Under the agreement, Westminster has given permission for the referendum to be held, while the wording to be put to Scottish voters will be agreed by the Scottish National Party-dominated parliament in Holyrood, subject to the opinion of the independent electoral commission.

“[We have] 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,” said Mr Salmond.

However, before he travelled to meet Mr Salmond, Mr Cameron pointedly chose to emphasise the economic worth of UK ties to Scotland when visiting the Rosyth dockyard, which is building the Queen Elizabeth II aircraft carrier.

“It is a UK success story. You’ve got turbines from Bristol, you’ve got motors from Rugby, you’ve got steel from Sheffield and the different parts of this extraordinary ship being assembled in Devon, in Tyneside, in Birkenhead and, of course, in Govan [in Glasgow].

“This is the biggest ship, the biggest naval ship, to be built in our country since the start of the second World War. It will have a life of over 50 years on the seas, protecting Britain, protecting our interests,” he told workers.

Faced with Mr Cameron’s photo-opportunity, Mr Salmond, along with deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, tellingly chose to visit a National Health Service-run family clinic in East Lothian, where they met staff, parents and children.

Later, Mr Cameron stressed that he had wanted to “show respect to the people of Scotland”, adding that Mr Salmond’s original move for a Scottish parliament-sanctioned referendum would not have been legal and would have been challenged.

“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,” he said.

Though the final battle is two years away, opinion polls predict that Mr Salmond will be roundly defeated – a result which could deliver a crippling blow to his leadership. Bookies yesterday offered 9-4 on a Yes vote, but 1-3 on a No vote.

One of the first battles will be over the wording of the question to be put to voters, following warnings from election experts that some of the original drafts by the SNP would have produced a skewed result.

The electoral commission will have a powerful influencing role but not a veto over the wording.

SNP minister Derek Mackay said the party’s favoured choice of wording – “Do you believe that Scotland should become an independent country?” – was “fairly straightforward”.