Resolving the independence issue

One way or another, the issue must be resolved. The issue of Scottish independence, that is.

As a necessary prelude, the rules for a referendum must be established in order that the outcome is accepted, either way.

There are signs of movement on both fronts.

On the rules, Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, has said he is willing to talk with the UK government and other parties.

I think he might ultimately concede that the ballot will be refereed by the Electoral Commission - and I don't believe he would insist upon his demand for 16 and 17-year-olds to be allowed to vote in the referendum.

But, right now, he is making no concessions whatsoever.

He wants the referendum in Autumn 2014 - and he's still contemplating a fall-back question on maximum devolution, alongside independence, despite UK opposition.

In similar mood, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore is seeking to sound conciliatory, aware that over-aggressive Westminster intervention might tend to drive Scots away from the Union. But, to be clear, there is no deal yet - nor even a framework.

And then the referendum contest itself. In the Commons, the Prime Minister and the Labour leader Ed Miliband demonstrably set aside their differences to urge opposition to independence.

Public signs of the private search for cross-party consensus on the Union. In practice, that campaign will be founded and run in Scotland, with a civic head and partisan deputies.

Similarly, Alex Salmond will cite evidence of wider support for independence.

The contest for the future of the Union has yet to take place. But it is taking shape.