Countdown to a vote on independence: Questions and Answers

Scotland on Sunday’s Political Editor, Eddie Barnes, examines some of the frequently asked questions about the referendum, and provides answers to them

What happens this week?

Alex Salmond is to meet Scottish Secretary Michael Moore for talks in Edinburgh to discuss the referendum. UK sources believe they are close to a deal under which they transfer powers to Holyrood, allowing it to hold a clear referendum on independence.

What are the sticking points?

UK ministers are likely to accept Alex Salmond’s preferred date for the referendum – but only if he first rules out putting a second question on the ballot paper. Salmond has so far refused to do so. Equally, there are doubts within the coalition about the fairness of Salmond’s proposed question, though UK ministers may be content to leave that to the Electoral Commission, the body overseeing the poll.

And if it isn’t resolved?

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Salmond last week conceded that he can’t put forward his preferred straightforward question on independence without getting the necessary legal powers from the UK Government (UK ministers say he hasn’t got the legal powers for any referendum). If there’s no deal, he indicated he would then revert to a convoluted question designed to get around the law which would face either being thrown out by the Electoral Commission or being caught up in the courts.

Will he also be having talks with other Scottish parties?

Yes. Salmond accepted an offer from Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont last week to discuss the framing of the referendum. Bodies such as the STUC have also suggested an independent body be set up to referee the process, fearing it could get bogged down in political nit-picking.

Any chance the Scottish Government will start telling people about actual independence soon?

Not likely. Salmond last week revealed that the SNP Government won’t publish its detailed white paper on independence until November 2013 – although SNP sources say they will be bringing forward plans before then. For now, the sparring over the process of the referendum looks set to run.

And if they win, what then?

The SNP proposal suggests that the Scottish elections timetabled for 2016 would be the first for a new independent Scottish Parliament. However, that would mean all negotiations being wrapped up between Edinburgh and London in a year and a half, with a UK General Election in the middle. At the moment, nothing is certain.