Independence Referendum

– in the Scottish Parliament on 21st March 2013.

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Photo of Tricia Marwick Tricia Marwick None

Good afternoon. The first item of business is a statement by Alex Salmond on Scotland’s independence referendum. The First Minister will take questions at the end of his statement; therefore, there should be no interventions or interruptions.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I am delighted to lead a Government that today introduces a bill that offers the people the opportunity to vote for an independent Scotland.

The Scottish Independence Referendum Bill is the most important legislation to have been introduced since our Scottish Parliament was reconvened—not in itself, but in what it enables Scotland to achieve with the powers of an independent country.

The parties in this chamber disagree fundamentally about the merits of independence. However, it is important to acknowledge that the bill is a product of consensus and co-operation. The Edinburgh agreement, which the Prime Minister and I signed last October, has been followed by legislation in this Parliament and Westminster and gives our Parliament the unchallengeable authority to organise the referendum. In drafting the bill that enables the referendum, the Scottish Government has been aided by the 26,000 responses that we received to our consultation on the bill. As a result, we are today meeting the commitment that we gave under the Edinburgh agreement.

The independence referendum will be designed, built and delivered in Scotland. It will meet the highest international standards of fairness and transparency. It will ask the very clear question, which has been approved by the Electoral Commission,

“Should Scotland be an independent country?”

We should not underestimate the importance to the wider world of a nation’s deciding its future by debate and democracy. It is something we should all take pride in—whether the vote is yes or no—that our ancient nation of Scotland is making its way in the 21st century according to the highest possible standard of popular consent.

I will set out the most significant provisions of the referendum—although given the extent of the prior consultation, they will not come as a great surprise. The bill makes it clear that the Electoral Commission will have overall responsibility for overseeing the referendum. It sets out detailed arrangements for the conduct of the referendum, including arrangements for polling stations, voting and counting procedures, and postal and proxy voting. All those provisions are in line with procedures for Scottish Parliament elections. The bill ensures that spending during the 16-week campaign period will obey the limits that are proposed by the Electoral Commission, just as both Governments will abide by the strictures of the four-week election period.

The bill does not set out who can vote in the referendum; provisions to enable 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to vote are included in the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill which we published earlier this month. That bill also defines who is eligible to vote in the referendum and that includes, of course, service personnel and Crown personnel.

Overall, the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill will ensure that the referendum will be internationally recognised as a fair, open and truly democratic process. There is no doubt that we will, in the months to follow, see vigorous discourse and discussion on both sides of the independence debate, in the airts and pairts and communities the length and breadth of Scotland. It is incumbent upon all of us, as parliamentarians, to lead by example, and to ensure that the level of this hugely important debate matches the expectations of the people who elected us.

Devolution has already shown how this Parliament has used its current powers to improve lives. Police and justice reforms have helped to cut crime and re-offending, and we have begun to tackle Scotland's long-standing public health problems through the public smoking ban and legislation for minimum alcohol unit pricing. Throughout the Parliament's history, under successive Administrations, we have used our powers for progressive purposes including free personal care, pioneering homelessness legislation, an end to tuition fees, and protecting the national health service. With a measure of independence on health, on education and on law and order, we have all contributed to Scotland being a better place.

Let us consider what we could do with Scottish control of the economy, of international representation and of security. We know that last year Scotland stood £4.4 billion better off than the rest of the UK. That is £824 for every man, woman and child in the country, but we do not have the ability to invest or save that money to the benefit of future generations.

On international representation, why would we wish to be represented by the sceptics of Europe when we could be influential and respected?

On defence, why would this nation of five and a quarter million people elect to waste billions on weapons of mass destruction when we still have thousands waiting for a decent home and a life chance?

Presiding Officer, next year the choice that will face the people is one of two futures. A no vote means a future of Governments that we did not vote for, imposing cuts and policies that we do not support. A yes vote means a future in which we can be certain—100 per cent certain—that the people of Scotland will get the Government for which they vote.

Figures from the United Nations that were published in 2009 showed that income inequality in the United Kingdom was among the highest of all the world’s richest nations. The draconian welfare reforms, including cuts to child benefits and the bedroom tax, will serve only to make the situation worse—despite 90 per cent of Scottish MPs voting against those measures. This Parliament can and will continue to take decisions to try and mitigate the worst of those ill-thought-out policies. However, the key word is “mitigate”. Until we have the full powers of independence, we cannot prevent those policies from being imposed on the people of Scotland.

The choice becomes clearer with each passing day: to take the opportunity to use our vast resources and talent to build a better country, or to continue with the Westminster system, which simply is not working for Scotland.

It is worth reflecting just for a moment on the privilege that this nation and this generation will have: nothing less than the privilege of choosing the future course of our country, in a democratic referendum that is made here in Scotland.

We have been on a journey since 1999 and the restoration of our Parliament, here in the heart of our ancient capital. We have witnessed a growing confidence and increase in democratic accountability.

I am honoured to announce that on Thursday 18 September 2014, we will hold Scotland’s referendum—an historic day, when the people will decide Scotland’s future. That day, 547 days from now, is the day when we take responsibility for our country, when we are able to speak with our own voice, choose our own direction and contribute in our own distinct way. It is the day when we stand on our own two feet, to claim a future. We will not stand alone: it is the day when we will gain a new and more modern relationship with the other nations of the UK—a true partnership of equals. It is the day when we will be part of a European framework, but on an equal basis, and when we will engage as a responsible member of the international community.

It will require effort and commitment to make our country as good as we know it can be, to secure prosperity and social justice. I believe that on 18 September 2014 the people of Scotland will vote yes, to create a better country than we have now—one that we can pass on with pride to the next generation.

The Presiding Officer:

The First Minister will take questions on the issues that have been raised in his statement. I intend to allow about 30 minutes for questions, after which we will move on to the next item of business.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

If “the hand of history” is on the First Minister’s shoulder, I do wish it would give him a shove, so that he would get on with it. This is the man who got into power by playing down his belief in independence. Many people who voted for the Scottish National Party but who do not believe in independence will breathe a sigh of relief—as I do—that the date is now in sight on which we can finish this constitutional debate once and for all and get on with dealing with the real issues and priorities of Scotland.

Until then, Scotland remains on pause. What I do not understand is this: if leaving the United Kingdom is the key to Scotland’s prosperity, why does the First Minister want Scotland to languish for another year and a half before we get the chance to vote on that? The truth behind the delay is not that the First Minister is holding to a promise that was made to the electorate in a television debate; the truth is that Alex Salmond knows that if he held the referendum now he would not just lose it—he would be routed.

All the self-aggrandisement of today is not just a sign of the First Minister’s usual pomposity; his making an occasion out of a delayed announcement is an attempt to con the people into believing that we have moved a step towards independence, when we have not. I believe that the truth is that we have moved a step down the road to cementing Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.

If today is the day when the debate starts in earnest, it should also be the day when the First Minister breaks the habit of a lifetime and starts answering questions. What controls would the Bank of England—which will by then be a foreign bank—have over the policies of the Government of a separate Scotland? [Interruption.]

I think we had this problem this morning. [Interruption.]

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

What controls would the Bank of England—which would by then be a foreign bank—have over the policies of the Government of a separate Scotland? What would the deal be if Scotland became a new member of the European Union? Alex Salmond has avoided giving detailed answers to those questions and many others in the years past. In the months ahead, the people of Scotland will hold him to account.

He plans to hold the referendum in the autumn of next year and to publish his white paper in the autumn of this year. Why the delay? If we are to have the transparent debate that the First Minister says he wants, why does he not publish his full independence plans now? If he wants a proper debate, he must disclose that white paper today. [Interruption.]

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

If he does not, the whole country will be asking, “What’s the plan, Alex?”

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I think “the hand of history” might have missed out Johann Lamont altogether. [Laughter.] That is, of course, a quotation from Tony Blair, as Labour members might—or might not—like to remember.

I do not quite understand Johann Lamont’s complaint. I think that she just kept her brief from First Minister’s questions earlier on. I have been doing an analysis of her first 45 appearances at First Minister’s questions. [Interruption.]

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

At almost half of First Minister’s question times, Johan Lamont has asked about independence. She asked about unemployment twice—twice out of 45 times. Given that she says that she does not want to talk about the constitutional question, why on earth does she use the vast majority of the time that is allotted to her to talk about exactly that?

Johann Lamont should understand that the case that the SNP, the Green Party and our allies in the yes Scotland campaign argue—a case that we will have a fantastic opportunity to make the length and breadth of Scotland—is that independence for Scotland will be instrumental in bringing about the more prosperous and just society that Scotland wishes to be. Our efforts to promote and maintain that position are amplified by what we see around us, in the welfare cuts by a Tory-Liberal Government that we did not elect. Our efforts will grow confidence because we know that we can, as we match the human and natural resources of this country, build that prosperous society.

The timetable that I have laid out is exactly what I said it would be. We have heard from not just Johann Lamont but her unionist allies many claims that this would happen and that would happen. Now we are laying out in the bill, for this Parliament to consider and pass this year, the opportunity for our nation to decide its own constitutional future. If that does not excite and interest the Labour Party, what on earth can? I assure the Labour Party that it will excite and interest the people of Scotland.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

I welcome the clarity that today’s statement brings. I believe that next September the people of Scotland will vote to stay within our United Kingdom—recognising that the autonomy that the Scottish Parliament has in areas including health, social care, education and justice, allied with the strength of being part of a larger UK family; the safety and security from our intelligence services; the international standing from our diplomatic corps; and the advantages of being one of the largest economies on the planet, means that Scotland can make a positive choice for devolution—the very best of both worlds—rather than opt for separation. A yes vote will mean the end of devolution. [Laughter.]

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

The First Minister today rightly notes that the people of Scotland have expectations regarding “the level of debate”. They also desire and demand information that they can trust, on which to base this most important of decisions. Will the First Minister now pledge to Parliament that his own conduct will rise to that level? No more exaggeration, no more misinformation and no more baseless assertion: does the First Minister realise that he has to be straight with the people of Scotland?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Ruth Davidson is entitled to put forward her point of view, as all campaigners are, which is why we should all—from both sides of the debate—relish the opportunity to make our cases and let the people decide. All I would say is that her version of the current reality would not be shared by people who are facing the bedroom tax or the draconian welfare cuts; it is not a version of reality that those people would likely understand.

Her argument that independence is a departure from the progress of national self-determination does not hold water when it is examined. After all, her party was fundamentally against this Parliament’s being reconvened and re-established. [Interruption.]

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Ruth Davidson’s party campaigned against that in a referendum.

There are those of us who have argued that the re-establishment of this Parliament would bring increased powers and that people would, as the Parliament grew in respect and authority and in the trust of the people of Scotland, wish to move on to an independent Parliament. Our argument will be tested. The passage of time has lent strength to that argument, while the argument of those who would have seen democracy in Scotland never being re-established grows ever weaker. My view has always been, as this Parliament has established itself and made a success of its remit, that people would have the appetite to move on to the equality that an independent Parliament will provide. There is every basis to believe that that is the positive argument that will carry this country.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I am sure that the First Minister is excited by today’s events, but after all the build-up, this looks like one of those occasions where the trailer is more exciting than the movie.

It has taken the First Minister almost 700 days to get the Cabinet to agree to the date of the referendum. Why on earth does he think that it will take him less time to break up the country?

If the First Minister loses, will he join me and others to develop a new consensus for more powers for the Scottish Parliament in the UK? I favour home rule within the UK. Will he develop his proposals?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

As Ruth Davidson, his ally in the UK Westminster Government is, Willie Rennie is entitled to put forward his case. I look forward to the debates and events on the campaign trail.

It is true that we have given substantial notice of the date on which the referendum is going to be held. That is a good thing. We should take it through our parliamentary procedures and we should have that discussion and debate. We should follow the Gould recommendations of allowing six months between the passage of the bill and the event of an election or referendum. That is all to the good and it is exactly what we should do.

Willie Rennie recently suggested that the 18 months that we have allowed for Scotland to establish its position as an independent country is—as he put it—“unrealistic”. The only problem is, if I remember correctly, that when Professor Crawford from Cambridge—the expert who was appointed by the UK Government—was asked that same question, he described that period as being perfectly “realistic”. I suspect that when we examine timescales and look at the arguments for and against in the referendum campaign, we will find that the case for Scotland’s progress and optimism as an independent country in this world will carry sway, and that Willie Rennie’s arguments to dilute that power of authority and that democracy will be found wanting.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I very much welcome the First Minister’s statement. We now know the day on which Scotland will decide to take her place as an equal member of the family of nations.

Does the First Minister agree that despite all the negativity and fears that have been generated by the anti-independence parties over votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, the referendum question and—yes—even the date itself, the Scottish Government has been positive, straight and fair with the Scottish people with regard to the referendum process? [Interruption.]

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Does the First Minister agree that it will be the same with the campaign for independence itself, to enable Scotland to be an independent, much fairer, prosperous and socially just country?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Bruce Crawford fairly—and quite mildly—refers to some of the pessimism that the unionist parties have expressed about this process. They doubted that we could establish a fair question. Ruth Davidson thought that the first question was fair, then she thought that it was unfair because other people thought—

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Maybe she was told; maybe she was not. There were certainly a lot of expressions of disquiet and suggestions that the process could not be properly organised, and that the referendum would not be properly conducted.

However, thus far, we have not had a suggestion from the unionist parties that this is anything other than a fair and democratic test of the will of the people of Scotland. Even if their pessimism about Scotland’s future is still in place, and even if they retain the negativity with which they express their arguments every time the suggestion that Scotland should have control over issues that any country in the world with half our natural and human resources has control over as a matter of course, at least we have not today seen a question mark being raised over the integrity and democracy of the process. It must surely represent progress that our unionist opponents are no longer questioning the integrity of a democratic decision.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I would normally begin by thanking the First Minister for prior sight of his statement but, on this occasion, the First Minister provided a statement that deliberately excluded the date of the referendum, which is the part of his announcement that he has been heralding for many months. [Interruption.]

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

However, I noticed that the first page of the statement talks about the

“standards of fairness and transparency” to which the First Minister aspires and that the third page mentions “fair, open and truly democratic” processes. However, the First Minister’s need for a fanfare has already trumped those principles today.

The Presiding Officer:

Do we have a question, Ms Ferguson?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I am coming to it, Presiding Officer.

John Swinney’s leaked paper admitted that an independent Scotland would have a marginally larger net deficit than the United Kingdom. The Office of Budget Responsibility has already discredited the oil boom that was claimed by the First Minister.

The Presiding Officer:

Can we have a question, Ms Ferguson?

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

Given the importance of this debate, when will we have the undoctored facts about Scotland’s economy, so that we can ensure that this Parliament and country can be proud of the “fair ... and democratic” processes that we all want, regardless of which side of the argument we happen to be on?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

First, the processes in respect of the statement were agreed with the Presiding Officer, I believe, so that how it has been put forward is proper.

I have to say that I was very influenced by watching yesterday’s budget; that budget seemed to be in the London Evening Standard before it was presented to the House of Commons. Therefore, I thought that the date on which Scotland will take its historic decision should be told to all members of this Parliament and the people of Scotland, equally.

With regard to setting out the arguments, that will happen on—among other occasions—this very afternoon, when John Swinney leads a debate on Scotland’s economic strength. I hasten to suggest that he may well pause to reflect on the figures from last year: the £4.4 billion relative surplus; and the £800 a head for every man, woman and child in Scotland. That might not persuade the Labour Party, but many people in Scotland will pray that that economic and financial strength will be used to rebuild our country, as opposed to our continuing to be under the tutelage of Tory and Labour Governments in Westminster.

The Presiding Officer:

Very many members wish to ask questions. If they keep the questions as brief as possible, I will manage to get through the whole list.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

I thank the First Minister for the advance copy of the statement and congratulate him on guarding his big secret even better than Steven Moffat has guarded the plot of the new series of “Doctor Who”.

I hope that the First Minister will agree that there are many people in Scotland who are open-minded on independence but have not yet been convinced, and will be convinced not by one flag or another, but by the arguments around what an independent Scotland can do for them.

Does the First Minister agree that those who are thinking about voting no should consider the stymied situation that Scotland would find itself in, with umpteen flavours of devo in-between, all competing with each other and each with little chance of ever being implemented?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Patrick Harvie is perfectly correct to point out that the clarity that the unionist parties call for in the arguments for independence is not matched by the opaqueness of their arguments for whatever alternative they intend, or do not intend, to put forward.

The establishment of the Edinburgh agreement, of the proposed legislation and of the nature and conduct of the referendum are essential for a democratic accepted process—in particular, section 30 of the Edinburgh agreement on the acceptance by both Governments of the result, and the undertaking to act in the interests of the people of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, regardless of the result. Those are vital.

In the campaign, the argument will be won by the why of independence. It will be won by the prospect of a different future—of a just and economically prosperous society. That will be the motivation. Although pessimistic and negative arguments often hold great sway in the columns of the press, a negative argument will win only if it comes up against another negative argument, in which case the most negative argument wins. If a negative argument comes up against an optimistic argument about a prosperous future, optimism and the case for optimism will prevail.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

As the mother of a 15-year-old who, following the passing of the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Bill, will be able to take part in this momentous election and choose the future of his country, I welcome the statement.

Whichever way my son chooses to vote, my ambition for him and for all Scotland’s young people is that they are fully informed and confident in their choice. How will the Scottish Government engage with schools and colleges and ensure that our young people are informed, registered to vote and fully engaged in the decision that will decide the future of their nation?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

There are two aspects to that important question. One is the responsibilities of the Electoral Commission regarding information about the ballot. The commission has been extremely well funded to prepare the processes under the proposed legislation and in accordance with the undertakings that we gave in the Edinburgh agreement. I am sure that the commission will fulfil its undertaking.

The second aspect is the obligation on the two campaigns to present their arguments not just in an uplifting and positive way, but in a way that uses the full range of modern technology to get the case across. There is responsibility in terms of information, on the part of the Electoral Commission and on the part of both campaigns to match the process with the quality and extent of their arguments.

Photo of James Kelly James Kelly Labour

Given the unpopularity of independence in the country, is not it the case that, rather than announcing the referendum date, the First Minister has actually announced his retirement date? I therefore congratulate him on giving advance notice to Derek Mackay and Nicola Sturgeon, so that they can organise their leadership campaigns.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Members will forgive me for having a slight sense of déjà vu regarding James Kelly’s question. I remember Iain Gray, at his last effort at First Minister’s questions, making exactly the same point, comforted by Labour’s lead of almost 20 per cent in the opinion polls in the run-up to the May 2011 elections, and forecasting my retirement from politics. As James Kelly may remember, the result, when the Scottish people examined the proposition, was substantially different. His confidence does him great credit, I am sure, but his confidence now may well be as misplaced as Iain Gray’s was in 2011.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party

This certainly is a momentous occasion, and I have waited an awful long time for it. No matter the result in the referendum, I do not think that I need to apologise either to my children or to my grandchildren. Can the First Minister confirm that the timetable will allow for proper public and parliamentary consideration of the proposals of the referendum on independence, so that the people of Scotland are able to make a fully informed decision about the future of our country?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Yes, I can. The timetable for the process in this Parliament should allow royal assent around November this year. The range of publications that the Scottish Government and—I am sure—both campaigns envisage, will carry on from now right through to referendum day. We will fulfil the Gould requirement of there being a six-month period between the passing of legislation and the decision in an election or referendum.

We have kept clear of the European elections. I do not think that the experience of the alternative vote referendum on another election date was a particularly good or edifying one, so we have kept clear of having a double election—the referendum is important enough to stand in its own right. We have also kept clear of the huge major sporting events that Scotland is going to enjoy next year. Therefore, for all those reasons, I think that it is the right date and time on which people can properly consider their nation’s future. For a decision of that importance, this is a proper, democratic and authoritative way to carry forward the argument.

Photo of Richard Baker Richard Baker Labour

Can the First Minister tell us how many civil servants will be working on the referendum bill and the constitutional reform workstreams in advance of the referendum?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I have heard various of our unionist opponents complain, as Ruth Davidson recently did, that too few civil servants were working on a defence perspective, and no doubt there will be complaints that there are too many. I will say that the civil service of Scotland, unlike perhaps the civil service elsewhere in these islands, is fully committed to securing a better future for the people of this country and implementing the wishes of the democratic Government of the day. If the member’s arguments had held sway during the process by which people chose to go down this road to have the referendum—that was a key part of the proposition that was put in 2011—then he would be right that we would not be having this referendum, because he wanted to deny the people of Scotland a choice on their own future.

Photo of Maureen Watt Maureen Watt Scottish National Party

I congratulate the First Minister on leading Scotland to a place where, for the first time ever in its history, all Scots over the age of 16 will be able to determine their own future. Does the First Minister agree that it is insulting to the intelligence of the people of Scotland to say that an independent Scotland could not deal with control over increased oil and gas revenues and their price volatilities? Does he agree that only with control of all our revenues can Scotland begin to deliver the fairer and more equal society that our citizens deserve?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I have to say that not just in Europe, where Scotland has the largest oil reserves of any country in the European Union, but internationally I do not know of a single country, apart from this country, where the ability to have natural resources on that scale would be regarded as anything other than an asset. The unionist parties’ propositions on these matters verge on the ludicrous in making the argument that it is somehow a liability to have massive oil and gas reserves for the next 40 or 50 years available to help us rebuild the Scottish economy and ensure social justice in this country. The argument that that is somehow a disadvantage is one that will be laughed at for the next 18 months and long beyond.

The Presiding Officer:

There are many members who still wish to ask a question. I appeal again to members to keep their questions brief.

Photo of Kezia Dugdale Kezia Dugdale Labour

We know the date and the question, but we still do not know the detail. If this referendum will, in the First Minister’s words,

“meet the highest international standards of fairness and transparency”, can he tell us again why we are waiting six months for the white paper detail?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

The Government will issue a range of papers and there will be a range of discussions over the next few months. We thought that timing the white paper for around the time when royal assent is given to this Parliament’s referendum bill was exactly right. The white paper will be published the best part of a year before referendum day, which will give ample opportunity for debate and discussion—more opportunity, in fact, than in any referendum that I can think of internationally. The last thing that we will be devoid of is explanation, publications or democratic debate. Could it be that the Labour Party’s anxiety is not that it is worried that there will be too little information, but that the information provided and the quality of the debate will overwhelm its negativity and that of its Tory allies.

Photo of Roderick Campbell Roderick Campbell Scottish National Party

I welcome the work that the Scottish Government has undertaken to date to inform voters about the process that would follow a yes vote, following the recommendations of the Electoral Commission. Can the First Minister confirm whether the UK Government has provided any assurances that it intends to do the same?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Clause 30 of the Edinburgh agreement makes it amply clear that both Governments accept their obligation to respect the process and the will of the people. I am the last person, I think, to have influence in making the United Kingdom Government behave according to the best elements of either democratic or economic standards. Indeed, even the Tories and Liberals in this place seem to have no influence whatsoever over their colleagues at Westminster. However, I believe that that agreement and undertaking to accept and respect the will of the Scottish people is hugely important. We will abide by it and I expect others to do the same.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

The First Minister said in his statement that the franchise bill will define who is eligible to vote and that that will include service personnel. How will the First Minister ensure that the men and women from Scotland in our United Kingdom armed forces and their families, if based in other parts of the UK or overseas, will not only be entered in the register of voters but be given every facility to cast their votes?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

That is absolutely the case. I can place in the Scottish Parliament information centre the options that people will have in the service election. There is a comprehensive ability of service personnel who are serving overseas or indeed elsewhere in these islands to vote in a Scottish constituency. That is something that exists for service personnel, absolutely rightly. Incidentally, it exists because they do not determine their location; they go where the Crown orders them to go. That is absolutely right and it is built into the bill, which has already been published. I can make it available in SPICe for Annabel Goldie’s estimation.

I deprecate those outside the chamber who have tried to question that or to undermine it. It is there within the legislation and it will be absolutely respected so that our servicepeople have that entitlement.

Photo of Elaine Murray Elaine Murray Labour

On 18 September 2014, the sun will set at about 20 past 7. The First Minister has kept Scotland in the dark about the date of the referendum. On 18.11.14, many Scots may have to go to vote in the dark. In view of the darker nights and the vagaries of the Scottish weather, will the First Minister explain what action—[Interruption.] This is actually important in terms of people exercising their right to vote, Ms Ewing.

Will the First Minister explain what actions he and his Government will take to ensure that every eligible voter who wishes to cast their vote finds it easy and straightforward to do so? [Interruption.]

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I do not know whether Elaine Murray was listening, but the date is Thursday 18 September 2014. I have never heard it suggested hitherto that that is somehow too late in the year to have an election or a referendum, but I will probably light a candle for Elaine Murray to shine upon her darkness.

The date gives ample time and opportunity to hear the arguments and for the people to decide. When Elaine Murray has time to think about it, I do not seriously think that she will think that it is anything other than a reasonable date and timescale for the choice that the people will make.

Photo of Chic Brodie Chic Brodie Scottish National Party

I, too, welcome the First Minister’s statement on the referendum. Throughout our history, Scotland has contributed greatly to the international community in terms of innovation, education and welfare. Does the First Minister agree that independence offers us the opportunity to assume our rightful place in the world? Will he outline some of the expected international implications and benefits of our independence?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I believe all those things.

I take the opportunity to say that I am reminded that the date for next year is only a week later than the date of the devolution referendum of 1997, which seemed to meet with everybody’s assent as being a reasonable time of year to have such a referendum.

Thank goodness we had that referendum, established this Parliament and, as was rightly said, now have the opportunity to complete that process and have an independent country.

Photo of John Pentland John Pentland Labour

In the interests of unredacted fairness and transparency, will the First Minister agree to have a live public debate with Alistair Darling as the leader of better together when we get to see the far-too-long-awaited white paper in November, to help the Scottish people in all airts and pairts to make an informed decision about the future of Scotland? First Minister, will you agree or are you just a big feartie? [Interruption.]

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I understand that Alistair Darling dodged the welfare vote in the House of Commons to argue for the bitter together campaign. He has also been dodging debating with Blair Jenkins, the leader of the yes campaign. I am willing to debate with the Prime Minister or, indeed, the leader of the Labour Party. Let us have that debate, which I am up for and willing to have.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I ask the First Minister whether he could raise the level of the debate. This is about our country’s soul. It is about our children and our grandchildren’s standards and place in the world, and we are talking about candles in case someone cannot vote. Many friends of mine on the Labour side of the chamber have let me down and have let Scotland down this afternoon by the way in which they have approached the debate. This is a big question and it needs big people and big answers. Can we big it up, Presiding Officer? [Applause.]

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

Not for the first time and certainly not for the last time, I agree with Margo MacDonald.

Photo of Jim Eadie Jim Eadie Scottish National Party

Does the First Minister accept that, although the referendum campaign will be fought with passion and conviction on both sides, there is a duty on each of us to conduct the debate with dignity and mutual respect, because the eyes of the world are upon us?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

There are a number of important aspects to that point. I referred to one of them in the statement. The process, the arguments, the debate and the disputation about Scottish self-governance have been going on for the best part of 100 years. It is hugely important and a credit to this country that that has been conducted in a totally democratic, polite and civilised manner.

Not a single person has lost their life arguing for or against Scottish independence. Nobody has had so much as a nosebleed, as far as I know. That is something that we sometimes take for granted but of which we should nonetheless be proud. Given that we have accepted and acknowledged that democratic process and the assent and democratic will that it represents, the essence of that process—without all the hurly-burly and arguments that we will have and no doubt enjoy—is a debate about the nation’s future. It is a debate about the direction of the country. I am sure that this country, this nation, and indeed this Parliament and these politicians, will rise to that challenge.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

Surprisingly, the First Minister failed to answer this question at question time so I will give him another chance. In his statement, the First Minister spoke about progressive policies. How is the desire to halve the rate of corporation tax that is currently being applied by Osborne—a move that will rip hundreds of millions out of public services for working people—in any way a progressive policy choice? In the First Minister’s own words, no “dodging” the answer, please.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

If Neil Findlay cares to read the Scottish Government’s publication and analysis of our corporation tax policy, he will see that, first, it is not the one that he describes. Secondly, he will see that it will increase gross domestic product and employment substantially in this country. The point that I made to him earlier today, which should be the basic point, is that our focus is on policies that will increase the wealth of this country, just as our focus is on policies that will increase the fairness in this country. If we can put forward, in the yes campaign, that argument for the twin track of having a more prosperous and a more just society, believe me we shall sweep away the negativity with which Neil Findlay is, unfortunately, associated.