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David Cameron’s call for Scotland to hold a yes or no referendum on independence “sooner rather than later,” is what some advisers called “the nuclear option.” He was challenging the most successful British politician of the moment—Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP—to drop his demand for a poll in 2014, devised to deliver him victory.

Cameron’s decision to clash with Salmond shows that the breakdown of the 300-year-old social, political and cultural alliance between Scotland and England is no longer a matter of speculation. It is set to become the biggest constitutional issue of this parliamentary term, and the decade.

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