Leaders unite on Scots referendum
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."
But 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.
And Mr Cameron's spokesman indicated that this could involve talks between the Prime Minister and Mr Salmond. The spokesman said he expected negotiations over the referendum - and the independence battle itself - to involve senior politicians from all sides of the debate, including a number of Government ministers.
Mr Salmond said he was willing to talk to Mr Cameron but that the referendum would be decided by the Scottish Parliament. "These things must be decided by the Scottish Parliament," he told BBC Two's Newsnight. "I'm willing to talk to the Prime Minister of course.
"Our point of principle is this has to be a referendum built and made in the Scottish Parliament for the Scottish people, because the people best able to do that are the people who have a mandate in the Scottish Parliament. I'm prepared to talk to anyone about these things as long as we are not dictated to and we are not told what to do. We are not going to be bullied and intimidated."