When will the referendum be held?
Previously, SNP leader Alex Salmond was only prepared to say the referendum would be held at some point in the second half of the Scottish Parliament’s five-year term.
However, now says he wants it staged in the autumn of 2014.
Mr Salmond’s opponents have long said the delay is creating great uncertainty to Scotland and its economy, although the first minister says loads of companies have been happy to invest in Scotland during recent months, including Dell, Amazon and Michelin.
Mr Salmond also said he was sticking to a manifesto pledge on his rough timescale – his opponents say this is because he knows he’d lose if the referendum was held now.
Prime Minister David Cameron has to tread a fine line. He may well think an earlier referendum increases the chances of Scotland staying in the Union.
But if the party, which has just one MP on Scotland, pushes too hard, it risks increasing support for independence, through accusations of a “London/Tory fix”.
The SNP now has an overall majority in Scotland – why does it not simply declare independence?
The Nationalists have always taken the view that, on an issue of such significance, it would first need the backing of the Scottish people in a referendum.
It also needs this mandate to negotiate an independence settlement with the UK government.
So what is the UK government’s role in the referendum?
Because constitutional matters are not devolved, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore says that any referendum held without Westminster backing would not be legally binding and, therefore, open to legal challenge.
Mr Moore says he recognises the SNP’s right to hold the referendum, and wants to work with the Scottish government to ensure the correct powers are in place.
But the SNP has complained that Westminster is only making the offer “with strings attached” and argues it is trying to dictate the terms of a referendum – like the exact date or the content of the ballot paper – which is essentially none of its business.
One string which looks certain not to be attached is the notion of a so-called clarity clause in Westminster’s Scotland Bill, to boost Holyrood powers.
The term takes its name from the Clarity Act, a law passed by the Canadian government which laid down detailed provisions for holding a referendum by Quebec, to help ensure the clear will of the people had been expressed.
Source: By Andrew Black Political reporter, BBC Scotland 25 January 2012