Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Swinney and Alexander disagree over referendum date

John Swinney and Danny Alexander
Image caption The two finance ministers, John Swinney and Danny Alexander, disagree over the vote date

The UK government's Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, has questioned the date for the Scottish referendum.

He has asked why voters need to wait "another 1,000 days" before going to the polls.

Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney defended the autumn 2014 timetable, saying it was now the "established date" for the historic vote.

The SNP government has announced its four-month consultation on the issue.

First Minister Alex Salmond told MSPs at Holyrood that a simple "yes/no" question would be asked and a "devo max" question would be considered.

He reiterated his preferred date of 2014. The UK government has said it believes the vote should be held much sooner.

Mr Alexander, speaking on BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme, said: "I still think there's a question people will want to consider when they respond to these consultations about why it is we have to wait 1,000 more days before we can get on and have this question asked.

"I remember back in 2009 when the SNP government last set out plans for a referendum, they said they were going to call it in 2010. So back then they thought they could get the job done in a year."

Mr Swinney defended the timetable, telling the programme: "This is the biggest decision in 300 years so it must be founded in a fashion in which people have confidence.

"That means we've got to consult first on the approach to the question, the process, of the referendum.

"We then have to make sure that parliament has adequate opportunity to legislate. If we were to cut any corners in the legislative process, I'm sure I would be on this programme answering questions about jiggery-pokery.

"The final element is we must make sure that the recommendation that came forward from the Gould Commission, which examined all of the difficulties that were created by the UK government in the 2007 elections, are fully respected and reflected in our timetable.

"That means there must be adequate time for there to be discussion after the legislation has been put in place. That's why autumn 2014 is now the established date."

He added: "It's quite clear to me, although UK ministers can't quite see it yet, that autumn 2014 is now the established date for the referendum."

The UK government announced its public consultation into the referendum during a statement to MPs last week by Scottish Secretary Michael Moore.

Mr Salmond announced his government's public consultation during a statement to MSPs at Holyrood on Wednesday.

He said:

  • the question would be "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"
  • the electoral commission would oversee the referendum
  • people who are resident in Scotland will be eligible to vote, on the same basis as the Scottish Parliament elections
  • 16 and 17-year-olds should be allowed to vote
  • and a second question on devo max has not been ruled out as a possibility.

The SNP administration wants to introduce a Referendum Bill to Holyrood early next year.

This could then be passed by October 2013, and gain Royal Assent the month after that.

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said she had a "positive vision" for Scotland as part of the UK.

Speaking on Good Morning Scotland, Ms Lamont said: "In tough times, when we are facing uncertainty across the world, I believe that what the union has taught us is a capacity to co-operate, to be in partnership across the world with the United Kingdom, and I think, particularly at a time of risk, people understand that and perhaps recognise the stability that creates for them."

She added: "There are huge changes since I joined the Labour Party in the 1970s. The SNP still have the same prescription for Scotland now as they had in 1975 - that is, separation.

"I have a positive vision for Scotland. I do recognise that the world has changed over time and the interesting thing about the SNP is their position is not a rational position in relation to the circumstances they face, it's a matter of faith to them. That's their position, I disagree with that."

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