Scottish Secretary of State Michael Moore has given the clearest signal yet that Westminster is growing increasingly concerned with its lack of control over the independence referendum.
In a statement today, the Lib Dem MP issued a veiled threat to the Scottish Government warning of a possible legal challenge should the referendum go ahead without specific legal consent from London.
With the Scottish government getting ready to unveail the results of their consultation on the referendum, Mr Moore repeated Unionist claims that only one question should be allowed on the ballot paper, and insisted that the SNP was “elected on the promise of a single question independence referendum”.
In his statement, issued in advance of a speech to the National Business Convention in Edinburgh this afternoon, Mr Moore repeated earlier claims of uncertainty and insisted that “time was pressing” for an agreement on a section 30 between both London and Edinburgh to remove ‘doubts’ over the legality of the referendum.
In what was a clear attempt at staking a claim for some control over the referendum process Moore said a swift agreement : “…will allow both of Scotland’s parliaments to scrutinise and approve the Order, paving the way to a Bill in the spring. So we need to get on and settle the big questions.”
Moore claimed that a section 30 would ensure that the referendum was decided, “at the ballot box, not in the courtroom”.
The bid by the Scottish Lib Dem MP is the latest in a series of set-pieces by the anti-independence camp to present the referendum as requiring London sanction. It follows similar claims by Labour MP Ian Davidson who also insisted that Holyrood requires a so called ‘Section 30’ order that would make the referendum binding.
Mr Davidson, interviewed by the BBC, recently admitted that Westminster would be looking to set conditions in return for a section 30. At a House of Commons Committee hearing, the Scottish Labour MP also admitted that he would look for any advantage that the wording of the question might bring.
The bid for influence by the Unionist camp is widely believed to be due to the possibility of a second question being introduced on the ballot paper. Polls have consistently shown that when asked, most Scots say they want more powers to be an option – something opposed by all three Unionist parties.
The favoured definition for more powers is Devo-max, which would see all powers, with the exception of Foreign Affairs and Defence, returning to Scotland. Advocates include former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish and figures from Civic Scotland.
Unionist calls for agreement to settle the legality of the referendum have been welcomed by the Scottish government who have argued that a section 30 order could be put in place relatively quickly. However, they remain firm in their view that Westminster must not set pre-conditions.
Responding to Mr Moore, Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business Bruce Crawford said: “Scotland’s referendum in autumn 2014 must be made in Scotland and decided by Scotland’s parliament – and as we have always said we have absolutely no objection to a Section 30 Order in regard to the referendum, with no Westminster strings attached, which could be agreed very shortly.
“It is only right that matters such as a ‘more powers’ option and votes for 16 and 17 year-olds are carefully and properly considered, which is exactly what the Scottish government are doing.
“One outstanding matter is that we are still waiting on Mr Moore to distance himself from the remarks of the Convener of Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee (Ian Davidson MP), who said that ‘of course’ the anti-independence parties would attach conditions to a Section 30 Order in relation to the referendum.
“This is directly contradictory to Mr Moore’s own statement in the House of Commons on 10 January that it is his task, ‘to ensure that this referendum is made in Scotland, by the people of Scotland, for the future of Scotland’.”
The stand-off between London and Edinburgh is unlikely to unduly worry the Salmond administration which has both a mandate and a clear majority in the Scottish Parliament.
The result of the Scottish government’s referendum consultation is expected to be announced at the end of September, where questions over votes for 16 and 17 year olds as well as a second question will be addressed.
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