Scots to go to polls in 2014 independence vote

PRIME Minister David Cameron insisted yesterday the United Kingdom should remain intact as he signed an historic agreement that signals “game on” for the Scottish independence debate.

Mr Cameron met Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond in Edinburgh to sign off on the deal that will deliver a legally binding referendum in 2014. The agreement stipulates that the ballot must contain just one question on independence after Westminster resolutely refused to permit a second question on “devolution max”.

In exchange, the Scottish Government has been given a free hand to propose the date of referendum, the wording of the question, and the option to extend the franchise to 16- and 17-year-olds.

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Both governments emerged from yesterday’s talks, which attracted media attention from around the world, insisting that they were satisfied with the final agreement.

“I am doing my absolute best to not look triumphant today,” said Mr Salmond following the signing of the agreement that will fulfil the Scottish National Party’s 80-year-old ambition for a referendum on independence. With most polls currently indicating that a minority of Scots want independence, Mr Salmond has two years to persuade them to back his vision.

“Just as I believe in independence, I believe in the ability of persuasion on this argument,” he said.

Mr Cameron said he will be arguing to keep the United Kingdom “family” together, and said: “I passionately believe Scotland will be better off with the United Kingdom but also crucially the United Kingdom 
will be better off with Scotland. We’re better off together, we’re stronger together, we’re safer together. Let the arguments now be put, and I hope that people will vote to keep this United Kingdom together.”

The Edinburgh Agreement states that the referendum should have “a clear legal base; be legislated for by the Scottish Parliament; be conducted so as to command the confidence of parliaments, government and people; and deliver a fair test and decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect”.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, who led the negotiations for the UK Government, said the deal signals “game on” for the referendum debate.

Comment: Page 12; North could pay the price: Page 13.