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Should Cameron force an early vote on Scottish independence?

By Tim Montgomerie

Alex Salmond now has a majority in the Scottish Parliament and with that majority he has the power to hold a non-binding referendum on Scottish independence. In the FT (£) Brian Groom speculates that the SNP leader may offer voters three options: the status quo, full independence and a middle path of “fiscal autonomy” where Scotland would raise all its own revenues but remit a portion to London to fund defence and foreign policy. This middle option may be the best Salmond could hope for. He knows that poll after poll shows a big majority against independence (see UK Polling Report's archive).

Voters didn't vote for independence last week when 45.4% of them voted for the SNP. Taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom hardly featured in the SNP campaign. The Scottish people voted for the charismatic Salmond and for policies like freezing council tax and increasing police numbers...

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Unionists fear that Salmond will use the next few years to foster enmity between Holyrood and "Tory London". The aim will be to steadily drive up the number in favour of independence by complaining at Cameron's treatment of Scotland. Only then would Salmond risk a referendum. Cameron is determined to minimise Salmond's opportunities to foster grievances and readily agreed to extra borrowing powers for Scotland at the weekend. Cameron's reluctance to review the Barnett formula is part of his softly-softly strategy.

Nonetheless, the last Tory Secretary of State for Scotland, Lord Forsyth, has urged Cameron to force an early referendum so Salmond has no opportunity to pursue his slowly, slowly catchee monkey strategy:

"David Cameron has quite recently said he wants to set out a respect agenda for Scotland. I think he should amend the Scotland Bill so that we can have an immediate referendum. We need to give people a choice and I would like to think that preserving the United Kingdom is top of the Prime Minister's priorities."

Fraser-Murdo-in-Perth Significantly, Murdo Fraser MSP (the likeliest successor to Annabel Goldie as Scottish Tory leader, who resigned yesterday) appears to agree. He told STV that the SNP should "bring it on" and launch the referendum straight away. "Nothing would be more damaging for Scotland," he said, "than to have four or five years of a long-running debate over whether we will be independent or not." If Mr Salmond was "feart" the Coalition government in London should consider launching its own vote, Mr Fraser said.

At The Telegraph Alan Cochrane recommends that Cameron starts building a cross-party team to win any referendum. He nominates John Reid, Alistair Darling, Douglas Alexander, Gordon Brown, David Steel, Ming Campbell, Charlie Kennedy, Michael Forsyth and Malcom Rifkind. A male-heavy list missing "Baroness Bella". At least I hope Annabel Goldie (and Nick Bourne) will soon be enobled. They've carried the blue torch over infertile territory and in very lean years. Both would be good additions to the Upper House.


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