Scottish National Party leader and First Minister, Alex Salmond, argued that given the significance of the vote, it should not be rushed into as much had to be made clear to the public. And so, the SNP's preferred date would be towards the end of the 2011-2015 parliament. Autumn 2014 was selected for a number of reasons: it came after the Glasgow Commonwealth Games (at which Scotland would compete, possibly giving a lift in national pride akin to what the Olympics did for Team GB) and was six months before the next UK general election (in spring 2015). (There was also some speculation that the SNP were in favour of a 2014 referendum as it was the 700th anniversary of the defeat of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, when a Scottish army led by King Robert the Bruce defeated the English army of King Edward II).
Furthermore, Labour winning in the 2015 UK general election might dissipate Scottish voters' fears, whereas not knowing what the outcome would be, with the possibility of majority Conservative administration looming, could play into the SNP's hands. The SNP had two other demands surrounding the referendum: first, that 16-17 year olds should be able to vote (because it is thought under-24s are more likely to vote for independence); second, the UK Electoral Commission should not referee the elections since it was a Westminster-appointed body.
The Edinburgh Agreement, signed in October 2012, was the result of protracted discussions between the Scottish and UK Governments about the how and when of the referendum. It was agreed that the vote would be held in 2014 and administered by the Scottish Government under a special provision of the Scotland Act, passed by Westminster. This allows the Scottish Government to set the question, using the guidance of the UK Electoral Commission. Furthermore, it must be a single question on independence. The SNP, therefore, have to argue for independence with no version of Devo Plus as a 'back up'. However, the SNP did have the franchise extended to 16-17 year olds.
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Watch a news report on the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement. The BBC also provide a 'Timeline' of the Scottish independence referendum. This gives a chronological outline of the key events with regards to the 2014 Referendum, starting with SNP victory in 2007.
The political landscape of Scotland, and the UK more widely, has changed considerably since New Labour and Tony Blair were first elected in 1997 with a promise to introduce devolution for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has gone from a 'region' (a hugely contested status of course) of the UK, with no formal political status other than a Secretary of State in the UK Cabinet, to a country with a devolved parliament standing on the verge of an historic vote on full independence. A country seeking to become a fully-fledged nation state in its own right. The shift in the political landscape since 2007 must be mesmerising to those who designed Scotland's devolved settlement. What was not supposed to have happened has happened, and in the space of only five years, lending weight to the few Conservative voices that devolution was only the first stage on a slippery slope to independence. While, at the time of writing (early 2013), no one is quite sure which way the independence vote will go, the SNP rise to power clearly demonstrates the extent to which people in Scotland are unhappy with the 'status quo' (that is, rule from Westminster by politicians they fail to identify with). Hence, if the electorate vote to stay in the Union, the problem of political representation is not going to disappear.
Even if the 2014 independence referendum results in a no vote, the question of the constitutional status of Scotland will not go away. Around one-third of voters seem prepared to support independence, a sizeable minority in its own right. The position favoured by most voters in Scotland, at least according to successive polls and surveys, appears to be devo-max; that is, the transfer of full fiscal and additional powers to Scotland while remaining within the UK, and this is not an option being presented to voters. All the main unionist parties (Labour, Liberal Democrat and the Conservatives) agree that ‘more devolution’ is desirable – the point of contention is how much more. But we are also left with the vexed issue of how devo-max is to be defined? Does social welfare and benefits fall under this remit? What about nuclear defence? Both issues are increasingly pivotal in the independence debate.
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There are two other related collections of articles that you may wish to explore next: The debate on Scottish independence and Independence, social welfare and a fairer Scotland.