The Prime Minister and Scotland’s First Minister today sealed a deal to grant the government in Edinburgh the power to hold a referendum on independence.
By Rosa Prince, Online Political Editor
2:04PM BST 15 Oct 2012
David Cameron and Alex Salmond signed the agreement during a meeting at the Scottish Government headquarters at St Andrews House.
The deal, which has been dubbed “The Edinburgh Agreement”, follows months of negotiations.
Private meetings between the two governments have covered contentious issues about the question on the paper.
Proposals for a second question on further devolution, short of independence, were firmly opposed by the UK Government.
Negotiations between the governments were led by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore.
A referendum will happen in two years time.
Mr Moore said he was confident that Scots will reject independence and vote to stay in the Union.
Describing the deal over the referendum as a “historic agreement” which was “made in Scotland,” Mr Moore said that it was now time to get beyond the process and into the important issues which will decide whether or not Scots vote to remain part of the United Kingdom.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “It is a historic decision that we are going to face here. Let’s choose, let’s decide.
“I am very confident that Scotland will decide its future is much better with the United Kingdom. The question is, what is better for us.”
Mr Moore said that the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland, which were bailed out by the Westminster government, showed that it was safer for Scotland to remain within the Union.
He also raised the ease of trade within the UK, and the lack of certainty about an independent Scotland’s future relationship with the European Union, saying that issues such as these would form the “big debate” about Scottish independence.
“When people weigh all of that up, they will think it is way better to be part of the United Kingdom,” he added.
The deal agreed between the Government and the SNP means that the referendum will be held later than Mr Cameron had wanted but, crucially, will include only one question, on whether Scotland should become an independent country.
On the same programme, the party’s Nicola Sturgeon said that many people in Scotland had wanted further questions on the ballot paper, proposing greater powers for the Scottish Parliament, but went on: “We did say that option should not be ruled out prematurely. In any negotiation there has to be compromise. Both sides have compromised.
“I want to Scotland to be an independent country. Independence is the option on the ballot paper that I wanted to see, that the SNP wanted to see.”
In what is being seen as a veiled warning to the electorate, Mr Cameron will also visit the Rosyth shipyard in Fife, where the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is being assembled.
The move is intended to underline the investment of billions of pounds that the Westminster government makes in Scotland, and the security advantages of remaining part of the United Kingdom. Last month, Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, warned that an independent Scotland would not be able to afford its welfare bill.
Mr Duncan Smith said the annual benefit and pensions bill in Scotland was almost twice as much as the revenue raised each year from North Sea oil and gas.
Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, also claimed that official figures showed that almost nine out of 10 Scottish households took more from the public purse than they contribute in taxes.
An ICM poll earlier this year showed that more people backed Scottish independence in England than in Scotland.
The Scottish vote comes despite no such referendum being offered south of the border.
Today’s meeting follows months of negotiations in which Mr Salmond has apparently succeeded in securing his preferred timetable for the referendum — autumn 2014 — but lost the option of a second question on the ballot paper.
Mr Salmond had wanted a question on so-called “devo max” — devolution of further powers from London to Scotland. This was thought to have included the power to raise taxes and control many other areas of public spending.
Mr Cameron said: “This marks the beginning of an important chapter in Scotland’s story, and allows the real debate to begin. It is now up to the people of Scotland to make that historic decision. The very future of Scotland depends on their verdict.” Mr Salmond said that the agreement was an important step toward independence.
But Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former Scottish Secretary and Foreign Secretary, said the deal was a defeat for Mr Salmond, and his failure to secure an “extra powers” question was by far the most important concession.
Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, said he was confident that voters would decide to remain in the UK.
The most recent poll on independence suggests support for leaving the UK has dropped. A survey of 995 adults, published last week, showed support for the Union at 53 per cent, compared with support for independence at 28 per cent.