What does Labour think?
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont – who is in favour of a single question – wants the referendum to be held as quickly as possible.
The party is also hoping calls for cross-party talks on the issue may hurry things along.
Henry McLeish, a former Labour Scottish first minister, says he’s “concerned” at Mr Cameron’s intervention and accused the PM of failing to understand the real issues involved.
He says the choice for Scotland should not be between full independence and the status quo, but a debate about increasing devolved powers for Scotland within the UK.
Can First Minister Alex Salmond refuse to co-operate with a Westminster timetable?
He could. The Scottish government insists it doesn’t need any extra powers to hold a proper referendum, so there is a chance it could just go ahead regardless of what the Westminster coalition says.
Essentially the two sides are, for now, locked in a stalemate on the question of legality.
Professor Robert Hazell, professor of British Politics and Government and a director of the Constitutional Unit at University College London, said Mr Salmond had no direct say in what the UK government does because Westminster was “sovereign”.
He added: “But he [Mr Salmond] can certainly sit on his hands if the UK government appears to have seized his ball. And the UK government is within very reasonable territory in insisting that a referendum was fair and legal.
“I’m less sure about their [Westminster] right to insist on the timing of the referendum and whether they are right to insist that the referendum is decisive.”
How might a referendum work?
MSPs would need to pass a Referendum Bill in the Scottish Parliament.
There would then be a for-and-against campaign, like the one we saw for the AV referendum, before Scots voters went to the polls.
Who would oversee the campaign?
The Electoral Commission watchdog is set to make sure everything is conducted properly.
It’s an independent body with recognised expertise in such issues, and whose values are “fairness, impartiality and “transparency”.
The SNP previously expressed concern that the commission was accountable to Westminster and not Holyrood, and its board were appointed politically.
But it now seems certain that the Scottish government will not insist on a new and similar Scottish body being set up to keep an eye on proceedings.
Would voters simply be asked whether they wanted independence?
It’s nowhere near as simple as that.
Because the Scottish Parliament does, in itself, not have the authority to declare Scotland an independent country, a “Yes” vote in the referendum would mark the start of talks with the UK government.
Of course, if the Scottish people speak up for independence, it makes it all but impossible for Westminster ministers to say: “No, you can’t have it.”
The SNP had previously indicated the question on the ballot paper would go something like: “The Scottish Parliament should negotiate a new settlement with the British government, based on the proposals set out in the white paper, so that Scotland becomes a sovereign and independent state.”
The responses would be “Yes I agree” or “No I disagree”.
However, Alex Slamond has now attempted to cut through that discussion, by asking a simple question: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”.
What about the “second question” and what is devo-max?
In the last parliament, when the SNP was a minority government, it tried to get enough support for a referendum with Lib Dem votes, offering the olive branch of a second question on the ballot paper on increased powers for the Scottish Parliament.
Ultimately, they didn’t go for it, describing the offer as a red herring.
The terms “devolution max” and “devolution plus” have reared their heads more recently – nobody is entirely sure what it means, but broadly refers to significant new powers for Holyrood, short of independence.
That might include full fiscal powers.
Westminster is thought to favour a straight yes/no vote on independence.
The SNP is of a similar view, but says there is also “a significant body of opinion” in Scotland which wants more powers.
Backing for such a move may also save the SNP from oblivion, should Scots voters say no to independence.
There is also a fear at Westminster that devo-max will be harder to defeat, because it splits the unionist vote and wins over those who otherwise would have said no to full independence.
What happens in the event of a ‘Yes’ Vote?
Talks would begin with the UK government on a constitutional settlement, based on the SNP’s declaration of a popular mandate from the Scottish people.
It’s hard to say exactly how things would happen, given this would be new territory, but it’s likely the timescale from a “Yes” vote to full independence would be lengthy, given the huge number of issues which would need to be resolved.
Defence would be the main one – especially since Britain’s nuclear weapons are based at the Faslane naval base on the Clyde.
It’s also clear that, as things currently stand, an independent Scotland would continue to use the pound, at least initially, as its currency.
Mr Salmond would like to join the Euro, subject to a referendum and the right economic conditions – but that’s not exactly an attractive prospect at the moment.
It has been suggested that full independence, in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, could be delivered in 2016.
What happens if there is a ‘No’ Vote? Would there be another referendum?
Alex Salmond has described the independence referendum as a once-in-a-generation event.
All the parties – unionist and pro-independence – are keen to avoid the situation which has unfolded in the Canadian province of Quebec, where debate over multiple independence referenda over the years has been dubbed the “neverendum”.
At worst, a “No” result in the referendum could spell the end for the SNP as a mainstream political force.
It’s also likely that focus would shift back to the debate over more powers for Holyrood – with full fiscal autonomy, as opposed to relying on the Treasury block grant, probably becoming a more serious option.
What does the Scottish government do now?
The Scottish cabinet is currently holding a public consultation on the issue, due to finish in May.
This is the vehicle by which the SNP hopes to demonstrate that there is enough public support for a second question.
But don’t expect it to contain a list of possible referendum dates.
What about the alternative debate on more powers for the Scottish Parliament, short of independence?
Westminster is currently considering the previously mentioned Scotland Bill, which will deliver new financial powers worth £12bn, allowing Scotland to control a third of its budget under a new Scottish-set income tax and borrowing regime.
It came about as a result of the Calman Commission to review devolution 10 years on, backed by a vote of the pro-union parties at Holyrood.
The SNP was never keen to engage with the Scotland Bill debate, saying a “pocket money parliament” under Westminster control was not the way forward.
Source: By Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland 25 January 2012