Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron signed a deal in Edinburgh on Monday on holding a referendum on Scottish independence. The historic vote, set for 2014, could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom after more than 300 years.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and nationalist Scottish leader Alex Salmond signed an agreement on Monday to give the Scottish people a referendum on independence in 2014.
The referendum will ask voters a straight yes or no question on whether they want Scotland to leave the 305-year-old union with England.
Cameron opposes a break-up of the union, arguing that Britain is stronger together, and opinion polls show only between 30 and 40 percent of Scots support independence.
Monday’s deal represents the starting gun for what will likely be two years of fierce campaigning with the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) pitted against Cameron’s Conservatives, their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and the Labour Party.
“I don’t think Scotland can afford to stand alone and I think we need to be part of a bigger system. The UK has served us reasonably well over 300 years and I don’t see any reason to change it now,” said Scottish Labour Party MP John Robertson.
The agreement also represents a victory for Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond.
Speaking in Edinburgh before he and Cameron put pen to paper, Salmond said: “The agreement will see Scotland take an important step toward independence, and the means to create a fairer and more prosperous Scotland.”
"I look forward to working positively for a yes vote in 2014."
The landmark vote will also make history by allowing 16 and 17 year olds to take part.
The SNP had pressed for the 2014 date, giving them time to try to win over voters, and coinciding with the anniversary of the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn -- a famous Scots victory over the English.
“This agreement marks the end of six months of wrangling and negotiations between Edinburgh and London over the terms on which the referendum will be fought. It is the end of the phoney war and there’s a sense in Scotland that people just want to get on with the real thing now,” Scottish journalist Alex Massie told FRANCE 24.
Scotland and England have shared a monarch since 1603 and have been ruled by one single parliament in London since 1707. In 1999, for the first time since then, a devolved Scottish parliament was opened following a referendum.
The devolved Scottish government currently has powers over areas such as health and education, as well as a separate legal system.
A potential separation raises questions about what would happen to revenues from North Sea oil reserves.
Salmond has said he wants to retain the sterling currency and the British monarch as head of state.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2012-10-15