Constitutional law: Cameron and Salmond collide over referendum plans

Constitutional law: Cameron and Salmond collide over referendum plans

David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond have clashed over plans for a referendum to be held on Scotland gaining independence from the United Kingdom.

The plans, which are rapidly gaining pace, would see a referendum held on the matter of Scottish independence, something which Mr Salmond’s Scottish National Party have long coveted.

However, in a move which has angered Mr Salmond, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has stated that any referendum on Scottish independence must be held within the next 18 months. In return, Mr Salmond has accused the Prime Minister of meddling in Scottish affairs.

The issue is a complex one, and is driven by more than politics. Economists have recently warned Mr Cameron and his Chancellor George Osborne that foreign investment in UK businesses is being stifled by uncertainty over Scottish independence.

This is bad news for the economy and has prompted Mr Cameron to seek to drive the agenda on the issue of a referendum.

Mr Cameron has sought to advance the vote, by offering the SNP a binding referendum on the matter, providing such a vote can be held within 18 months. The offer, however, comes with some conditions, which include making the ballot a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question.

Mr Salmond has hit back, saying that the SNP will decide when and where the election is held, who oversees it and what the ballot papers will say. It is thought the SNP favour a more complex ballot with additional questions concerning the transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Constitutionalists doubt whether in the end Mr Salmond’s SNP have the legal authority under the Scotland Act 1998 to call the shots on any referendum. Politically, however, the SNP do hold all the cards, after being overwhelmingly voted into power by the Scottish public last year with a mandate for independence.

“It makes no sense to delay or defer the referendum,” said Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont.

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