[JURIST] Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond [official website] unveiled a proposal [consultation paper, PDF; press release] Thursday that, if passed, would allow Scottish voters to choose whether to expand the country's autonomy. The draft referendum contains two ballot papers. One version of the first question [text] asks whether Scotland should cut ties with the UK in most areas excluding foreign affairs, defense, monetary policy, and the currency. Another version of the first question [text] would reduce reliance on the UK in financial areas, allowing Scotland to, among other things, impose an income tax. The second ballot paper [text] goes farther, asking whether Scotland should become an independent state with the possibility of membership in the European Union, while retaining the queen as the head of state. In the foreword to the Bill Consultation Paper, Salmond wrote:
I believe that the future prosperity and development of Scotland is best served by Scotland becoming independent. The case for an independent Scotland is stronger and more urgent following recent economic events. It is exactly the flexibility that is offered by independence that Scotland needs if it is to deal most effectively with such challenges in the future. But I recognise that there are also those who argue that the responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament should be extended in more limited ways.
Scottish Conservative Party [party website] leader Annabel Goldie called the proposal [press release] a "standard distraction tool" to divert attention away from Salmond's failings, a sentiment echoed by leaders [Guardian report] of other opposition parties. The Bill Consultation Paper allows input on the proposed ballot measures until April 30.
The proposals are largely based on a November Scottish government report entitled "Your Scotland, Your Voice" [text, PDF] favoring increased devolution [BBC backgrounder] or independence. In June 2009 the Commission on Scottish Devolution [official website] released a report [text, PDF] calling for maintaining strong ties with the rest of the UK while giving the Scottish government greater autonomy in taxation, crime fighting and other areas of regulation. A 2007 government white paper [text, PDF] called for increased devolution and the possibility of a referendum on independence. In 2005 English Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned Scotland [BBC report] against leaving the UK and called for solidarity among UK countries. The Scottish parliament was created by the Scotland Act of 1998 [text] after a 1997 referendum [BBC results] showed support for a devolved Scottish government.