By a Newsnet reporter
UK Prime Minister David Cameron has reversed his position on the date of the Scottish independence referendum.
Speaking during a reception at the Scotland Office in Whitehall yesterday, held to mark the introduction of the Scotland Act, Mr Cameron said he was “not too fussy” over the timing but insisted on a “simple, fair, decisive and legal question”.
The Prime Minister had previously demanded that it was vital to hold the ballot as soon as possible, claiming that a vote late in 2014 was damaging business, however his comments on Monday night appeared to concede that the date of the vote is not damaging to business confidence after all.
Mr Cameron stated that the referendum question was “far more important” than the date, and signalled his continuing opposition to an additional question on the ballot about so-called “Devo Max”, and called for “one simple question” on the ballot paper.
Mr Cameron’s U-turn on the referendum date seemingly came without consultation with his ministerial colleagues in the Scotland Office. Just last week, Scottish secretary Michael Moore told the Herald newspaper in an interview that the firm policy of the Coalition government was for the ballot to be held in 2013. Mr Moore repeated claims, which have never been substantiated, that delaying the vote until 2014 was damaging to business and the economy.
The U-turn from Downing Street has now pulled the rug from under Mr Moore’s arguments. However Downing Street insists there has been no U-turn, and says that it remains the policy of the UK government that the referendum be held as soon as possible.
In his address at the Scotland Office, Mr Cameron insisted that the anti-independence campaign would appeal to the hearts of Scottish voters. He acknowledged that many of the arguments would be “about the head”, but noted that the argument of the heart “does not just go one way”, and claimed that emotional arguments against independence would resonate with Scottish voters, saying:
“I know there is an enormous well-spring in terms of Scottish pride and Scottish nationhood and Scottish identity but I absolutely believe you can be prouder of your Scottish heritage, identity and all of that than you are of your British identity but still believe in this wonderful construction of the United Kingdom.”
Mr Cameron also claimed that the current crisis in the Eurozone was a reason against Scottish independence.
Responding to Mr Cameron’s remarks, the Scottish government’s Secretary for Parliamentary Business Bruce Crawford said he was delighted and welcomed the U-turn from the Prime Minister.
Mr Crawford said: “I am delighted that the Prime Minister has now conceded the timescale for Scotland’s referendum. The terms and the timing are matters to be decided in Scotland.
“We are now proceeding with our referendum consultation being independently analysed.
“This paves the way for the Referendum Bill being passed by the Scottish Parliament in good time for this historic vote on our nation’s future to be held in 2014.”
The Scottish Government’s consultation on the referendum ended last week after more than 20,000 people responded. Key areas of the consultation included whether 16 year olds should be allowed to vote, what wording the question should contain and whether the electorate should be given a so called second question on Devo-Max.