Referendum timing now ‘more or less accepted’ says First Minister

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By Martin Kelly

First Minister Alex Salmond has said that the date of Autumn 2014 for the independence referendum has been more or less accepted.

Mr Salmond was speaking after talks were held with Scottish Secretary Michael Moore as a prelude to an anticipated meeting with UK PM David Cameron.

The First Minister said modest progress had been made but insisted that any agreement on the areas being challenged by London would have to wait until the referendum consultation had concluded.

Speaking to the BBC, the First minister said: “Perhaps if the people speak strongly enough we’ll get a resolution to the disagreements on whether there should be one or two questions and whether sixteen year and seventeen year olds get to vote.”

The Scottish Government has insisted that they remain open to a third option being placed on the ballot alongside independence and the status-quo; ruling it out now, insists Mr Salmond, would be “undemocratic”.

The Scottish Government are also keen to extend the election franchise to allow sixteen and seventeen year olds to participate in the vote.

Whilst both sides appear to be close to agreement on the role of the Electoral Commission, Unionist parties are demanding that the third option of devo-max be disallowed from the ballot paper and that only those aged eighteen years old and over be allowed to take part.

Speaking after the meeting Mr Moore again repeated his view that a referendum would be better held “sooner rather than later” and said:

“There are some technical issues about laws and how you pass all that, that we need to sort out.  But we can do that, I think, much more quickly and get this referendum earlier, and that will be good for Scotland and good for business in Scotland.”

The meeting with Mr Moore is being viewed by the Scottish Government as a procedural courtesy only and the real talks will be conducted between Alex Salmond and David Cameron when they meet in the next few days.

The Scottish Government has pointed out that Mr Moore is not part of the so called ‘Quad’ of UK Ministers put together to deal with the independence referendum and that the situation requires that ‘decision makers’ should meet.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and George Osborne were assembled by the Tory / Lib Dem coalition in order to specifically deal with the issue of Scottish independence.

The meeting with Mr Cameron has been downplayed by the UK PM.  However despite trying to insist that he is not there to discuss the referendum, few believe that the Tory PM can avoid the subject when sat in a room opposite Alex Salmond.