Scotland Independence Vote: Date To Be Set

James Matthews, Scotland Correspondent
Scotland Independence Vote: Date To Be Set

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond will name the date for the country's independence referendum later.

It is due to take place in the autumn of next year and he will narrow it down to an exact date when the Scottish Government publishes its referendum bill.

He has declined to comment on reports it will be held on October 18, 2014.

Speaking ahead of the announcement, Scotland's Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Sky News: "We will unveil the date for the 2014 referendum, which marks a significant and important step in Scotland's independence journey.

"We have an ambitious vision for this country, one that is prosperous and successful, reflecting Scottish values of fairness and opportunity, promoting equality and social cohesion. 

"But I believe this vision can only be realised through the powers that independence will bring."

A spokesman for Scotland's SNP Government told Sky News that the naming of the date would bring an end to the "how" question of independence, regarding the mechanics of change, and turn the focus onto "why" - why Scots should vote to go it alone.

He said: "The publication of the bill will mark a watershed in the debate.

"It will capture the imagination of the electorate and inject a new focus into the campaign, particularly for undecided people who will, now, engage in a way that they haven't done before. Once the arguments are laid out, then we will win."

The arguments on the eve of the announcement centred around the Budget. The SNP dismissed as "deceit" Treasury claims that Scotland would gain an extra £176m over the next two years.

However, the SNP's opponents used a report by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) to dismiss the Nationalist's predictions of North Sea oil and gas wealth as "fantasy economics".

The OBR projected North Sea tax income between now and 2018 of around £33bn.  That compares to Scottish Government estimates of £48bn under independence.

Alistair Darling MP, who leads the pro-Union Better Together campaign, told Sky News: "You cannot plan your national finances on wishful thinking. And you cannot write your budget on the back of an envelope.

"Once again independent experts have found that the nationalists claims on oil are completely false. 

"This £15-24bn black hole in their sums shows why, behind closed doors, the nationalists are considering cuts to state pensions, public services and defence."