Michael Moore, the Scottish secretary, will address MPs at 4.30pm today to explain why the Westminster government is offering Alex Salmond the chance to hold a legally-binding referendum on Scottish independence.
Ostensibly, the answer is that government legal advice says that any “consultative” referendum could be open to challenge in the courts. But there is another, political reason. If Westminster offers the power to have a referendum, it can also tie in certain conditions.
The two things unionists want to stop are:
- Salmond delaying the referendum until 2014 or later, by which time the first minister might have built up a sense of unstoppable momentum and;
- A third option appearing on the ballot, dubbed “devolution max”, which might appeal to those nervous about full independence.