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Butt out, Alex Salmond tells Westminster over Scottish referendum

By Andrew Woodcock

David Cameron and Ed Miliband have joined forces in pledging to fight to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom as Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond told Westminster politicians to "butt out" of the debate.

The leaders of both major Westminster parties called on Mr Salmond's Scottish National Party to engage in talks over the coming weeks to pave the way for a referendum on independence.

Mr Cameron said he "passionately" believed in preserving the Union, and taunted the SNP for seeking to delay a ballot, telling MPs: "Let's have the debate and let's keep our country together."

Mr Salmond dismissed the UK Government's argument that Scotland's Parliament has no legal power to mount its own referendum on independence. He will unveil his own proposals before the end of this month for a referendum in the autumn of 2014.

The First Minister's plans, set for publication in the week beginning January 23, look set to put Edinburgh on collision course with London.

Mr Salmond's office said they will include a vote for 16 and 17-year-olds and may offer voters a third "devo-max" option, under which Scotland would stay in the Union but gain greater self-determination on financial issues.

Both of these features were ruled out in UK Government proposals put forward by Scotland Secretary Michael Moore.

Mr Moore called on the Scottish administration to work with the UK Government over the coming weeks to agree arrangements for a "clear, legal and decisive" referendum, which could be held within 18 months.

Mr Cameron's spokesman indicated that this could involve talks between the Prime Minister and Mr Salmond.

In a rare display of unity at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, Mr Cameron said: "This is one area where (Mr Miliband) and I are going to be 100% in agreement.

Asked whether the PM would be willing to share a platform with Mr Miliband, Mr Cameron's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister is keen to make the case for the Union and you saw at Prime Minister's Questions that he is keen to work with the opposition on this."

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