First Minister invites Cameron and Clegg to Scotland for referendum talks

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By G.A.Ponsonby

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond has offered to meet UK PM David Cameron and his Deputy Nick Clegg in Scotland in order to discuss Scotland’s independence referendum.

The offer to meet the leaders of the UK coalition followed talks between the leaders of all of the UK’s administrations who met at the summit of the British-Irish Council in Dublin.

Although independence was not formally on the agenda, Mr Salmond and Nick Clegg spoke for 10 minutes prior to the meeting getting underway.

Mr Salmond described the talks as “adult and mature” and said he felt the Scottish and UK Governments could have “constructive dialogue”.

“We believe, we know, and I think it’s generally acknowledged that we have got an unanswerable political mandate, that is an absolute majority in a proportional parliamentary system to conduct a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future,” he said.

“What I have said to the Deputy Prime Minister, which I think is similar to what the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons, is that, once we’ve published the Scottish Government’s consultation document, I am very happy to meet the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister in Edinburgh, in London or wherever to talk through these things in a positive way.

“Far better, whatever our views on events of recent days, that we can come to a constructive dialogue.  I think that’s what the people would expect and I think that can take us forward.

“Once we publish our proposals, perhaps some of the fears that people have will dissolve in the light of these proposals being published.”

Mr Salmond, who is scheduled to visit Abu Dhabi in a few days time to sign a major energy deal, moved to allay fears over what independence might mean for the other administrations in and around the British Isles and added:

“Whatever Scotland’s constitutional future we’re going to be willing and positive contributors to the British Irish Council.”

Mr Salmond revealed that his Government’s proposals for the 2014 referendum would be published on the 25th January.  The First Minister described it as “a consultation document with the whole community of Scotland” and said he would be happy to meet David Cameron after that.

In response, Mr Clegg conceded that the Scottish Government had the democratic right to hold a referendum but again raised questions over the legality of such a ballot.

The Lib Dem leader denied that the UK coalition were trying to bully Scotland and said: “We have actually said we will give to the Scottish Government, to clarify any legal ambiguities, the power to hold a referendum in a legally unambiguous manner.  That seems to me to be a co-operative thing for us to do and that is what we have said this week.”

Mr Clegg’s statement followed remarks by Secretary of State Michael Moore who said that the Scottish Parliament had no powers to hold any referendum, whether it was advisory or not.

Thus far, the UK coalition has refused to publish the legal advice it claims to have taken and on which their claims are based.

Expert

One of the world’s most foremost experts on referendums, Dr Matt Qvortrup, said that Scotland does not need any permission from London to hold a referendum.

Writing in the Scotsman newspaper Dr Qvortrup said: “The basic principle in international law is that the seceding country (in this case Scotland) decides whether it wants to become independent.

“To use but two examples, Montenegro did not have to ask Serbia to secede in 2006, nor did Estonia seek the Soviet Union’s permission to become independent in 1990 and clearly it would not have been granted it.”

He added: “So unless London wants to follow the Soviet Union in 1990, it cannot block Scottish independence.  The only ones who can do so are the Scottish voters and the Scottish administration.”

Even Professor Adam Tomkins, who has backed the UK Government’s legality claims, conceded this week on Newsnight Scotland that legality rests on the type of question that is asked.

According to a leading textbook on Scottish constitutional law, the Scottish Government’s long-held position that a consultative referendum is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament is accurate.  That is a view endorsed by Professor Stephen Tierney, Director of the centre for Constitutional Law at the University of Edinburgh.

However Unionists have suggested a challenge to the UK Supreme Court may result in the referendum being blocked.

Speaking on Good Morning Scotland, Daily Record journalist Torcuil Crichton claimed that there was a possibility that a challenge may in fact prevent a referendum from taking part this term and that Scots may have to wait until 2016 before getting the chance to vote.

Mr Crichton said that the UK coalition seemed to have “strong legal ground” for their illegality claims and warned that the row could end up “in a quagmire” in a few years’ time.

“Any bill passed for a referendum could end up in the Supreme Court within 28 days and won’t be enacted until after that legal row is over.” he said.

Mr Crichton told listeners that Alex Salmond would then try to make political capital out of the situation by describing the UK Supreme Court as a “Union Jack court”.

“Before you know it will be 2016” he said, and the SNP would have to go into another Scottish election promising a referendum.

Hear Torcuil Crichton here: (2hrs 12 mins in)
http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0195lv3/Good_Morning_Scotland_13_01_2012/

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