UK government presses for ‘give or take’ referendum in 2013

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By a Newsnet reporter

The UK government wants to bounce Scotland into holding the independence referendum in September next year, under proposals aired today by Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore.  

Mr Moore set out the approach on Wednesday afternoon during an appearance before the Commons Scottish Affairs Committee.

“I believe you can actually deliver this referendum by September 2013 which, give or take a few weeks, is close to the First Minister’s declaration that it would be in the second half of the Scottish Parliament,” Mr Moore claimed.

The Lib Dem MP said that the Bill could be introduced by autumn this year followed by Royal Assent in March next year.  He added that the regulated period for the campaign would then begin in June 2013 with the question going to the people in September.

Mr Moore said all legal and procedural requirements would be met and criticised the Scottish government’s approach.

He added: “It seems they’re kicking the can down the road on this one for no good reason.”

During the Holyrood elections in May 2011, which returned a majority SNP administration, the SNP stated that if returned to power they would hold the referendum in the second half of the Parliament.  At that time the Unionist parties were against holding a referendum and claimed that the SNP intended to “bounce” Scots into a ballot.

Mr Moore’s latest attempt to control the timing of the referendum will now be subject to negotiations between Westminster and Holyrood.  

The Scottish government quickly rejected Mr Moore’s suggestion for the referendum date, labelling it a “silly distraction”.

Bruce Crawford, cabinet secretary in the Scottish government responded to Mr Moore’s comments by noting that the Scottish government had “unanswerable mandate” giving it the right to hold the referendum at a time of its choosing.  Mr Crawford added that this mandate had been received at the same time that “the Lib Dems lost every … seat in mainland Scotland”.

Mr Crawford said that Mr Moore’s proposal was “flawed and full of holes” as it did not allow enough time for proper analysis of responses to the Scottish government’s public consultation on the issue, and the 10 week mininum time period required to test the ballot.

Mr Crawford added: “In any event, it is simply not for the Secretary of State to dictate the legislative timetable of the Scottish parliament.  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.”

He continued: “The more they try to dictate the terms of the referendum from Westminster, the more unpopular the anti-independence parties will become, and the more popular independence will be.

“We have published a detailed timetable to hold the referendum in autumn 2014, and that is when it shall be held.”