By Tim Montgomerie
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David Cameron will meet Alex Salmond tomorrow and confirm the details of the referendum that will determine Scotland's place in the United Kingdom. Three of the five points of controversy appear to have been decided in Alex Salmond's favour:
- The Scottish First Minister and SNP leader wins on the timing of the vote. Mr Salmond wants the vote in 2014 so that he can use the next two years to maximise unhappiness with London's Tory-led government and also, he hopes, win a Scottish patriotic bounce from that year's Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Unlike the Olympics athletes compete for Scotland rather than Great Britain in Commonwealth events. Countering this effect will be the possible effect of WWI commemorations. The centenary of the beginning of the First World War may remind Scots of the common battles fought under the Union flag.
- Mr Salmond also wins the right to suggest the wording of the referendum question. Polling by Lord Ashcroft suggests the nature of the question could be worth at least a couple of percentage points.
- Thirdly the SNP also look likely to ensure that 16 and 17 year-olds get a vote on Scotland's future. This extension of the franchise has implications for young people's participation in other elections.
- Fourthly the referendum spending cap looks set to be £1.5 million rather than the £750,000 preferred by the SNP. Mr Salmond fears being outspent by the combined muscle of the Scottish Labour, Lib Dem and Tory parties – all backed by the Unionist-leaning business community.
- Finally Mr Cameron has won on what is arguably the most important disputed issue. There'll only be one option on the referendum. Mr Salmond had wanted the Scottish people to be able to choose full independence or what he calls "devo max" – full fiscal autonomy.
Former Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth is left unimpressed by the outcome of talks between London and Edinburgh and has likened Mr Cameron to "Pontius Pilate". “Salmond," he told The Sunday Times (£), "has been able to get what he wants. If that’s called a negotiation, that’s stretching the language. It sounds like a walkover to me.” Sir Malcolm Rifkind, in contrast, says the PM and current Scottish Secretary Michael Moore have won on the most important issue. “The most important issue by far was whether there was one question or two on the ballot paper," Sir Malcolm told The Telegraph; "In that Salmond has suffered a comprehensive defeat.”
The most recent poll on independence came last week from TNS-BRMB and found that 53% of Scots would vote "No" in a referendum if held tomorrow (PDF). That's a 25% lead. The strengthening of the Unionist cause is summarised in the graph below:
The graph below suggests that Scots might well have voted for "devo max" if there had been more than one option in the referendum. In a choice of ideals 34% of Scots would vote for transfering more power; 35% prefer the current arrangement and less than a quarter (22%) most want full independence.