Spell out referendum, Scots told
REUTERS LONDON BRITAIN’S parliament threw down the gauntlet to Scottish separatists on Wednesday, challenging them to answer a series of questions about how an independent Scotland would work before they ask Scots to vote independence.on whether they want it or not.
The Scottish National Party (SNP), which runs Scotland’s devolved government, wants to hold a referendum on independence in 2014.
The British government, a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, opposes a break-up of the United Kingdom. The executive in London has agreed to a referendum but says it should take place earlier than 2014, leaving the SNP less time to build momentum for “We expect those who support the break-up of Britain to explain the consequences for the jobs and lives of ordinary Scots,” said Ian Davidson, head of the Scottish Affairs Committee in the British parliament’s House of Commons, releasing a new report on referendum issues on Wednesday.
Davidson, who represents a constituency in Glasgow, is a member of the opposition Labour party, which has traditionally been strong in Scotland and also opposes independence. Polls suggest that support for independence among Scots stands at between 30 and 40 percent.
The SNP hopes it can increase that by 2014, when national pride will be boosted by the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a famous victory over the English, and by Scotland hosting the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games.
The party is also hedging its bets by demanding that Scots be offered a middle way between the status quo and outright independence, in the form of a “devolution-max” option.
The view from London is very different. Prime Minister David Cameron has said a vote should take place before 2014 because uncertainty over the future was damaging Scotland, and the government wants the choices on offer to be a straightforward yes or no to independence.
Some campaign battle lines have already been drawn, with the SNP demanding 90 percent of Britain’s North Sea oil revenues for Scotland while also arguing that the Bank of England should still rescue distressed banks in an independent Scotland.
British taxpayers stumped up hundreds of billions of pounds in cash and state guarantees to save Royal Bank of Scotland from collapse during the 2008 crisis, hence the question of who should bail out Scottish banks is politically sensitive.
These issues will be at the top of the political agenda this week, with SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond delivering a speech in London on Wednesday before holding talks about the referendum with Cameron in Scotland on Thursday.
The Scottish Affairs Committee said both the government and the SNP must spell out detailed positions on all aspects of independence before the referendum, to enable Scottish voters to make an informed decision.
Key areas that require clarification are bank regulation, pensions, currency, membership of the EU and other international bodies, defence and costs of separation, the committee said.
“You only need to scratch the surface to reveal how many complex questions there are,” said Davidson.
Questions sent to the lawmakers by ordinary voters ranged from whether their welfare provisions would be cut to whether they would still have access to BBC television and whether they could still use their British passports for foreign travel. In a typically robust response, the SNP called the committee’s report “an embarrassment to its authors” and said it had already answered