First Minister Alex Salmond has announced that the independence referendum is to be held in the Autumn of 2014.
In a surprise announcement Mr Salmond claimed that the ballot would be the most important decision that Scotland has made in 300 years.
Speaking on BBC Scotland, Mr Salmond called on the UK Government to show sense and stop interfering in Scotland’s democratic process by “trying to pull the strings behind the scenes”.
He said holding the referendum in the latter half of 2014 will allow people to “hear all the arguments” and added: “This has to be a referendum that is made in Scotland.”
“I think the Westminster parties have got to start understanding – all Westminster politicians – that this has to be a referendum made, built, and run in Scotland,” Mr Salmond said.
“The mandate the SNP has to hold this referendum is unanswerable. That is the political reality.” he added.
The announcement of the date of the referendum came on the same day as Scottish Secretary of State Michael Moore laid out conditions the Tory/Lib Dem coalition claim need to be met before they will sanction any ballot. Mr Moore was still speaking when Mr Salmond informed SKY News of his intention to hold the referendum in 2014.
Speaking in the House of Commons Lib Dem Moore confirmed that the consultative draft document the coalition cabinet had prepared on their referendum proposals had specifically not set any timetable. The Lib Dem MP also claimed that any referendum, without Westminster approval, would be illegal and that people outwith Scotland should be consulted on the referendum process.
However, Mr Salmond’s announcement of a date for the referendum now looks to have wrong-footed the UK coalition who have pledged a three month consultation before they formalise any proposals. It also removes the claims of ‘uncertainty’ made by opponents of independence and will leave the UK Government and Labour open to their own attacks should they now seek to prevaricate for three months.
The move by the Scottish Government is the latest in a series of manoeuvres by both sides since David Cameron’s dramatic attempt at grabbing control of the referendum.
Mr Cameron’s intervention has caused a split amongst some in the anti-independence camp with senior Labour figures, including Henry McLeish and Malcolm Chisholm, labelling it “ignorant” and “mad meddling”.
However new Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont welcomed the Tory leader’s move and said that if the proposal helped clarify the legal position then she welcomed it, “I think if that’s what’s been offered that would be helpful” she said.