By politics.co.uk staff
Whitehall officials could give Scotland the power to run its own independence referendum, it has been reported.
The Scotland bill currently working its way through parliament would be used to give Holyrood the chance to control the crunch vote on Scotland's future in - or out - of the UK.
Its section 30 order, which gives ministers in London the power to devolve any responsibility at their discretion, might be utilised to hand over responsibility for the referendum, the BBC reported.
Such a move might make it easier for the Scottish Nationalist party to support the Scotland bill, which will extend Holyrood's control over spending tax revenues. The SNP wants it to go further.
Deputy prime minister Ni`ck Clegg was asked about the referendum issue in the Commons earlier this week by Labour backbencher Ann McKechin, who asked whether the Electoral Commission should supervise "any future referendum held in the UK or in any part of it".
Mr Clegg answered: "Clearly, any referendum needs to be held in a way that enjoys public trust and is fair and objective, on whatever subject and in whatever part of the United Kingdom."
Yesterday outgoing civil service chief Sir Gus O'Donnell warned that the independence question was one of the "enormous challenges" faced by Britain in the coming years. The SNP has pledged to hold a referendum at some stage between 2013 and 2016.
New Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont called for the referendum to take place sooner rather than later.
She said: "The people of Scotland should make this choice in a referendum, but the only thing standing between them and that referendum is Alex Salmond.
"The SNP won a mandate to ask the people of Scotland, and they should get on with it: one straight question, yes or no, so we can end the uncertainty and get on with improving the lives of the people."
Mr Salmond said the SNP was "up for the challenge" of winning over the Scottish people on independence.