By a Newsnet reporter
Addressing MSPs in the chamber of Holyrood, First Minister Alex Salmond has announced the date of Scotland’s historic independence referendum.
The ballot, described as the most important vote for Scots in 300 years, will be held on Thursday 18 September 2014, in 547 days time.
The First Minister declared it would be a “historic day when the people will decide Scotland’s future”, and described today’s bill as “the most important legislation to be introduced” since the Scottish Parliament was re-established in 1999.
“I am honoured to announce that on Thursday September 18 2014 we will hold Scotland’s referendum – a historic day when the people will decide Scotland’s future.”
Mr Salmond added:
“I believe it will be the day we take responsibility for our country, when we are able to speak with our own voice, choose our own direction and contribute in our own distinct way.”
The First Minister hailed the ballot as giving Scotland a chance to achieve a “new, more modern relationship with the other nations of the UK” that would be a “true partnership of equals …
“I believe on September 18 the people of Scotland will vote Yes to create a better country than we have now, one we can pass on with pride to the next generation.”
The First Minister said that only independence could protect Scotland from the “draconian welfare reforms” being imposed on the country by a Westminster government made up of parties which Scots did not vote for. He promised that the Scottish Parliament would do all it could to mitigate the negative effects of the changes, but added:
“Until we have the full powers of independence we cannot prevent them from being imposed upon the people of Scotland.
“The choice becomes clearer with each passing day: the opportunity to use our vast resources and talent to build a better country, or to continue with a Westminster system that simply isn’t working for Scotland.”
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:
“This is a special occasion and I think everybody in Scotland… will understand how momentous this occasion is.
“It names the date on which everybody in Scotland gets the chance to take our future into our own hands. That’s what independence would be all about – making sure that Scotland’s future, our destiny, the big decisions that shape our lives here in Scotland are taken in Scotland.
“Independence is the means to building a better Scotland. It’s about ensuring our vast resources as a country can be spent making life better for our people.”
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow and Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, welcomed today’s announcement. Scottish Greens support a Yes vote as it gives the best chance to transform society by bringing power closer to the people and the best chance of encouraging decisions that reflect Scotland’s strong social values.
Mr Harvie said:
“Now we have the date for our diaries the effort to persuade those who are undecided must focus on the needs of real people and not just those with loud voices and deep pockets. It is increasingly clear Scotland’s aspirations are not being reflected by Westminster, and the time has come to shape our own affairs.
“Scottish Greens believe transformation is needed in our society and our economy, closing the equality gap and managing our resources so they sustain future generations. We believe many more Scots can be be persuaded to vote Yes by a positive vision of a Scotland that serves the people’s interests, rather than corporate interests.”
Colin Fox, spokesperson for the Scottish Socialist Party, also welcomed the announcement, and called for a “Yes vote for real change”.
Mr Fox said: “The Scottish Socialist Party fully supports the Yes campaign and we do so to provide the means for real change in the interests of Scotland’s working class majority.”
Blair Jenkins, who heads the Yes Scotland campaign, said that today’s announcement was “another important landmark day that brings us closer to the referendum”.
He continued: “For those of us who believe the best future for Scotland is as an independent country, it’s a very significant day.
“It makes the referendum much more imminent and gives an added reality to it. We move from the stage where a lot of the debate about independence has been at a theoretical level, a process level. I think people are engaging more and more with the issues.”
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: “If the hand of history is on the First Minister’s shoulder I wish it would give him a shove and he’d get on with it.
She added: “The truth behind the delay is not that he is holding to a promise made to the electorate in a tv debate.
“The truth is Alex Salmond knows if he held the referendum now he wouldn’t just lose it he would be routed.
“All the self-aggrandizement of today isn’t just a sign of the First Minister’s usual pomposity. Making an occasion out of a delayed announcements, is an attempt to con the people into believing that we have moved a step towards independence when we haven’t.”