Westminster and Holyrood have been at loggerheads over various aspects of the referendum on Scottish independence. The things they disagree on are:
- The date. The coalition wants the Scottish government to hold the referendum as soon as possible, possibly next year. Alex Salmond wants longer to organise it (and, say Westminster politicians, time to build his case), and has suggested 2014, the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.
- The question. The coalition wants there to be a simple “yes” or “no” question to independence. The SNP is holding the door open to a third option – “devolution max”, granting full financial autonomy – which might gather more support and make eventual independence seem inevitable.
- Who can vote. Alex Salmond wants 16-18 year olds to vote (an age group among whom support for independence is high). The Westminster government does not.
Now it seems as if the prime minister is preparing for defeat on the first of those points. Speaking at a reception at the Scotland Office, Cameron reportedly said he was “not fussed” over the timing but wanted a “simple, fair, decisive and legal question”.
This is not what Michael Moore, the Scotland Secretary, has being saying at all. But if these words are to be believed – and Number 10 was not denying them this morning – it appears the PM has taken away one of Moore’s key bargaining chips ahead of the next round of talks with Alex Salmond.
Unsurprisingly the SNP is delighted. Bruce Crawford, a Scottish minister, told the BBC he was “delighted” by Cameron’s words, adding:
The terms and the timing of the referendum are matters to be decided in Scotland – not imposed by Westminster – and we are now proceeding with our referendum consultation being independently analysed.