UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond [official websites] on Monday formally agreed to hold a referendum [text, PDF] regarding the independence of Scotland, potentially ending the union between the two nations in place since the Union with England Act of 1707 [text]. The agreement to allow the referendum [Guardian report] marks a turning point in a decades-long negotiation regarding independence [JURIST report]. Currently scheduled for 2014, the referendum represents a compromise for both sides, with Cameron conceding his desire for an earlier vote and Salmond consenting to a straight up or down vote. Monday's accord, referred to as the Edinburgh Agreement [text], sets parameters for the handling of the referendum process, including promises on both sides to maintain "the highest standards of fairness, honesty and propriety, informed by consultation and independent expert advice." While earlier versions of the referendum included lesser possibilities, such as granting the Scottish Parliament [official website] increased autonomy and authority, this agreement offers only a single option [party website].
The current draft of the referendum differs considerably in terms and direction from the original [JURIST report], presented in February 2010, although both draw their authority from Section 30 of the Scotland Act [text]. The current Scottish Parliament, formed in 1997 and known as the Holyrood, consists of 129 members, 52 percent of which are from Salmond's Scottish National Party, followed by 29 percent from Cameron's Conservative Party [party website]. Current polls [NYT report] show 63 percent of Scottish voters opposed to independence and 37 percent supporting it. Cameron, facing an election in 2015, desired an earlier referendum date for political separation and has promised an aggressive campaign to maintain the Union. Salmond gained concessions to allow all Scots 16 years and older to vote on independence, despite the legal voting age of 18 in the UK, though this is expected to add only 2.5 percent to the rolls. Salmond hopes the Scottish people will find that the potential increase in revenues to be gained from a larger share of the North Sea oil fields, will offset the considerable loss of the British annual transfer payments which are critical to the Scottish economy.