Northern Ireland

Salmond sets out referendum question

Alex Salmond
Image caption Alex Salmond wants the people of Scotland to consider a referendum in 2014

Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

That is the question that Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, wants the people of Scotland to consider in a referendum in 2014.

Speaking in Holyrood to members of the Scottish parliament, he set out his proposals for a referendum on independence from the rest of the UK.

He said the question should be simple and straightforward.

Mr Salmond told MSPs that there could also be a question asking voters if they wanted greater devolution within the UK.

This is the so-called "Devo Max" position which gives Scotland more financial powers, but falls short of independence.

Consultation

He said: "If there is an alternative of maximum devolution which would command wide support in Scotland, then it is only fair and democratic that option should be among the choices open to the people of Scotland."

The Scottish First Minister added: "We will not, as the UK government seems to want, eliminate that choice simply because it might be popular."

Alex Salmond also said the Scottish government disagreed with Westminster in that it wanted young people to have a vote.

The issue of allowing 16-year-olds to vote in the referendum will be put to consultation.

In his statement to MSPs he said:"If a 16-year-old in Scotland can register to join the army, get married, and pay taxes surely he or she should be able to have a say in this country's constitutional future?"

Speaking on the 253rd anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Alex Salmond quoted Scotland's national poet throughout his short address.

He said that in 2014 the people of Scotland would have a say on the country's future.

He said: "Independence, in essence, is based on a simple idea: the people who care most about Scotland, that is the people who live, work and bring up their families in Scotland, should be the ones taking the decisions about our nation's future."

Alex Salmond said he wanted to talk to other parties about the referendum.

However, responding to his speech Johann Lamont MSP, the Scottish Labour leader, rejected his call for independence.

Emotions

She accused the First Minister of running down Scotland and said: "Why does he belittle Scots by saying they are not equal partners with the rest of the UK?"

Ruth Davidson, the Leader of Scotland's Conservatives, challenged Alex Salmond over his offer to meet with other parties.

She wanted to know if the First Minister "would co-operate with the UK government".

She said "we want co-operation not confrontation".

Talks between the Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore and the First Minister are expected to take place on Friday.

The debate in Scotland is being watched very carefully in Northern Ireland.

Understandably unionists and nationalists have different emotions.

In Dublin recently, the Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson talked about the implications of Scotland leaving the union and he said he would campaign against independence.

The Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness is reluctant to get involved in the debate.

Speaking at Stormont this week he warned local politicians not to get involved in the arguments and suggested people should "stay clear" of the issue.

There is still much to be resolved before the people of Scotland will get a chance to vote.

Ministers in London have already launched their own consultation on plans for the referendum, but have clashed with the Scottish government over who has the legal power to hold it.

A Referendum Bill, introduced to parliament early next year, could be passed towards the end of 2013, with the vote itself being held after the European elections in June 2014, and the Commonwealth Games, which are being staged in Glasgow.

The consultation will close on 11 May.

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