The battle for Scotland began in earnest this week with David Cameron’s offer to give Alex Salmond the power to hold a decisive referendum on independence—but only if that referendum is held “sooner rather than later,” and only if it is on a clear in-or-out vote.
Salmond’s response has been equally bold. Ignoring Westminster he has declared that the referendum will be held in the autumn of 2014, and is refusing to rule out a third option of more powers by insisting that the referendum must be “made, built and run” in Scotland. A major constitutional crisis is brewing which may only be resolved by a protracted fight in the courts.
On the surface of it, the logic behind Cameron’s decision is obvious. Polls consistently put support for independence around the 30 per cent mark, meaning that an early in-or-out vote would give him the best possible chance of winning. Ideally, he would like to stop the Scottish government from holding the referendum at the time most convenient to the cause of Scottish nationalism: the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn.