Nationalist ‘barriers’ delaying referendum

By Alex Stevenson

London is triggering another outbreak of hostilities with Holyrood over the terms of the Scottish independence election today.

Scottish secretary Michael Moore will use a speech at the Scotsman conference in Edinburgh to criticise the "complication, hesitation and qualification" on offer from the SNP.

The two parties have been engaged in talks over the details of the referendum vote since clashing over the coalition's proposals for a referendum held under the authority of the UK parliament this January.

The SNP wants the referendum to be held in autumn 2014 and is prepared to consider a third 'devo-max' option.

"For whatever reason the Scottish government is placing barriers on what should be a clear and straight road," Mr Moore is expected to say.

He will accuse the nationalists of trying to "confuse the issue" with a second question on devolution and ask why they want to put the vote off – when in 2009 they were calling for it to be held the following year.

"The Scottish government said in January they want to ask a straightforward question that they cannot ask under existing powers," Mr Moore is expected to add.

"So why do they insist on maintaining the threat of a referendum that could be determined in court instead of the ballot box?"

London has claimed the referendum could be held by mid-2013, using the example of the defeated 2011 electoral reform referendum to show that votes could be organised relatively quickly.

The Electoral Commission's submission to the two governments' consultation, however, disagrees with that view. It wants at least a 28-week notice period before the referendum takes place.

Its submission also warns that expected electoral register turmoil due to the switch to individual voter registration and shorter daylight hours could limit turnout if the referendum takes place in 2014.