SNP plans 2014 poll on independence
Scotland's First Minister has dismissed UK Government proposals that would pave the way for a vote on independence - instead announcing plans for his own ballot.
The Scottish Government said autumn 2014 was its preferred date for a vote on the country's constitutional future.
Just over an hour before that was revealed, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore insisted any attempt to mount a referendum on the basis of legislation passed at Holyrood would be unlawful, and could be struck down by the courts.
Instead, he said a draft order drawn up in Westminster could temporarily extend the Scottish Parliament's powers, allowing it to hold a referendum on the single question of whether or not Scotland should remain in the UK.
However, a spokesman for Alex Salmond said Scottish National Party ministers were "entirely confident" of their plans. And Mr Salmond said that Westminster should "resist the temptation" to interfere in Scottish politics. "I think the Westminster parties have got to start understanding - all Westminster politicians - that this has to be a referendum made, built, and run in Scotland," he said.
The First Minister added the 2014 timescale was desirable "because this is the biggest decision Scotland has made for 300 years". He stated: "If you are going to do things properly, allow the proper process to take place, that debate in the way that it must be had, then that is the date we are going to move towards."
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said announcing the preferred date was a "panicked response from a panicked First Minister" to the "Section 30" order, which could give Holyrood the power to deliver a referendum.
This would have to be approved by both Houses at Westminster and the Scottish Parliament, but could allow a ballot to be staged within 12-18 months The order proposed would require any referendum to take place under the oversight of the Electoral Commission, with a single ballot paper offering voters the choice between independence or remaining part of the UK.
Mr Moore, who spoke to the SNP leader just before he made his statement, said: "To legislate for a referendum on independence, the Scottish Parliament must have the legal power to do so. It is the Government's clear view that the Scottish Parliament doesn't have that legal power. Scotland's future within the United Kingdom will be the most important decision we, as Scots, take in our lifetimes. It is essential that the referendum is legal, fair and decisive."
But a spokesman for the First Minister said: "We reject the strings that are being attached."