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Moore eyes referendum poll progress

The terms of the independence referendum should be agreed by the UK and Scottish governments within the next two months, the Scottish Secretary has said.

Michael Moore expects to meet Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond in the next few weeks to clear the way for agreement on the vote by the end of October.

The Scottish Government has put forward plans to hold the ballot on the country's constitutional future in the autumn of 2014, with its timetable including bringing forward a referendum Bill early next year.

The UK Government has said the Scottish Government does not currently have the power to hold a legal vote and wants to transfer legislative powers to do so using a Section 30 Order.

In his keynote speech to the National Business Convention in Edinburgh, Mr Moore said: "It's time to crack on. Time is pressing. The sooner we can get the process issues out of the way and get on to the 'great debate' itself, the better for everyone, and the less damaging the uncertainty will be for people and businesses alike.

"But importantly, if the Scottish Government wants to meet its own timetable for the referendum, the powers must be devolved by next spring. That means both governments reaching agreement on a Section 30 Order by late October."

Westminster published the results of its public consultation on the referendum earlier this year. The Scottish Government was examining the responses to its own version over the summer but has yet to publish its results.

Mr Moore said he remained confident that "a legal, fair and decisive referendum" can be agreed by the two administrations and emphasised the need for a single question on the ballot paper.

Commenting on possible legal challenges to the referendum, Mr Moore said: "I am clear it is in the interests of both governments that we agree a Section 30 Order that will empower the Scottish Parliament to hold a referendum. That is the route to a legal referendum. And that, crucially, is in the interests of the Scottish people too."

A spokesman for Scottish Parliamentary Business Secretary Bruce Crawford said the Scottish Government was looking forward to continuing discussions on the terms of the referendum.

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