by a Newsnet reporter
Speaking at the Lib Dem Scottish conference in Inverness yesterday in front of just 300 Lib Dem delegates, Scottish secretary of state Michael Moore declared his “frustration” with the Scottish government’s timetable for the independence referendum, and said that he wanted the vote to be held next year. This is a reversal of the position of the Lib Dems prior to the May 2010 Scottish elections, when the party refused to hold a vote at all, Mr Moore now wants the vote to be held as soon as possible.
Mr Moore said: “What I find frustrating is the Nationalists’ determination to go slow. If Mr Salmond has confidence in his plans – if he really believes that Scotland will vote to leave the UK family – why does he drag his heels?
“In January, the SNP said Scots should wait nearly three years to determine their future. But we don’t need 1,000 days to decide this crucial question. We can get this done in the 500 days that follow the consultations. In 500 days you can plan the poll, pass the law and hold the ballot.
“That is enough time for the Scottish people to hear the arguments, consider the evidence and express their view.”
His comments were supported by party leader Nick Clegg, who repeated Conservative Prime Minster David Cameron’s statement that Scotland could be offered unspecified additional powers within the UK. Mr Clegg announced that the Lib Dems would set up a “Home Rule Commission” to be headed by former party leader Menzies Campbell, which would “look at the next stage in the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK”.
However Mr Clegg stressed that the question of extra powers for Holyrood could only be decided after Scots had rejected the option of independence.
“We need to settle the independence question first. But if the Scottish people decide they want to remain in the United Kingdom, then we can get on with the business of giving Scotland more power.”
Commenting Mr Moore’s comments, SNP Depute Leader and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:
“The anti-independence parties are mired in confusion and negativity. They are confused, because they are either unable or unwilling to spell out to the people of Scotland what their alternative to independence is – and Labour have just asked for a year to come up with one. And they are negative, because in the absence of a positive alternative they are consigned to negativity about independence.
“Michael Moore is in no position to dictate to the people and parliament of Scotland about the referendum. First, like their Tory allies, the Lib Dems have failed to set out an alternative to independence. And second, the Lib Dems have no democratic mandate to dictate the terms of the referendum – having lost every constituency seat in mainland Scotland last year, and they are currently languishing in single figures in the polls.
“These are matters for the people and parliament of Scotland to decide, and we have set out a proper, detailed timetable for the referendum in autumn 2014 which meets our election pledge.
“Autumn 2014 is the correct timetable for the referendum, which reflects the procedures of the Scottish Parliament, and the need for the fullest possible public debate on Scotland’s most important decision for 300 years, with all the questions answered.
“The Scotland Office timetable is flawed and full of holes. We have already secured thousands of responses to our consultation, and these will be properly analysed in the summer. This autumn and winter there needs to be a minimum of 10 weeks to test the ballot paper – as required by the Electoral Commission.
“Also, it would be totally inappropriate to enact a Bill of this importance and magnitude between autumn and March, without allowing for a proper period of parliamentary scrutiny. And given the abysmal farce of the AV referendum, the very last people to listen to on the timing and terms of a referendum would be the Lib Dems.”