Scotland to vote on self-rule

2009-11-30 18:43

London - Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond unveiled plans on Monday for a referendum next year that he said would be a "historic" chance to vote for independence from the United Kingdom.

But the poll, promoted for years by Salmond's Scottish National Party (SNP), may be stymied by Scotland's parliament, while opinion polls suggest he may struggle to win over Scottish voters.

The British government also fiercely opposes Scottish independence, warning against "narrow nationalism".

Launching draft legislative plans spelling out the proposed options for Scotland's future, Salmond said: "The debate in Scottish politics is no longer between change or no change."

"It's about the kind of change we seek, and the right of the people to choose their future in a free and fair referendum."

"This historic document sets out the case for Scottish independence with unprecedented depth and clarity."

Salmond hopes to bring forward proposed legislation early in the new year and hold a referendum in around 12 months' time.

However, he faces strong opposition inside the Edinburgh parliament.

'Devolution max'

The SNP - whose main policy has long been Scottish independence - forms a minority administration.

The three other main parties - Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats - are unionist parties and oppose holding a referendum.

Salmond hopes that by including other options, those parties could be tempted to support a plebiscite.

The paper, launched on Saint Andrew's Day, Scotland's national day, sets out four options.

The first is keeping the status quo, where the Scottish parliament decides on matters such as education, health, the environment and justice, while foreign affairs, defence and nuclear energy are among those reserved for the British parliament.

The second is relatively limited reforms to devolution set out in the so-called Calman Commission review, which would transfer a few more powers to Edinburgh.

The third option is dubbed "devolution max", under which Scotland would have financial autonomy and everything except foreign affairs and defence would be handled in Edinburgh.

The fourth option is full independence.

"Responsibility for our own affairs... is the only way, in our opinion, that we can transform this country's future," Salmond said.

29% for independence

"Independence is the normal status of most nations and it is the status that this government believes that this nation of Scotland should have."

A YouGov poll of 1 141 Scots for The Daily Telegraph newspaper last week found that only 29% would vote for Scottish independence, while 57% would vote against.

Commentators say Salmond could be hoping for a pro-independence boost from British general elections next year.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown - himself a Scot - is struggling to avoid defeat at the hands of Conservative leader David Cameron, whose upper-class English background may not endear him to voters in Scotland.

King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne in 1603, and in 1707 the two neighbours merged to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, with a single parliament and government.

The current, 129-member Scottish parliament was formed in 1999, with powers devolved from the British parliament.

In London, Brown's spokesperson said: "The PM is a strong believer in the union. He is committed to take forward the Calman Commission package."

He quoted Brown as saying: "Isolation or narrow nationalism would be precisely the wrong course."