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Scottish Independence: Talks After Tensions?

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore has asked for talks with Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond on the independence referendum following a week of heated political debate.

Mr Moore said the UK Government wants to provide Holyrood with "the legal powers for a fair and decisive referendum" to take place.

Mr Salmond said he was ready to meet Prime Minister David Cameron "in Edinburgh, in London or wherever" to discuss the way forward, when he attended the summit of the British-Irish Council in Dublin on Friday.

The UK Government said the first contact between the two administrations should be with the Scottish Secretary, who is leading its referendum consultation, and Mr Salmond.

It comes as a poll in the Mail on Sunday says the idea of Scottish independence is more popular in England than it is north of the border.

The survey also found that Scots were more likely to vote against independence in a referendum if it contained a second question on whether more powers should be devolved to Edinburgh from Westminster.

Only 26% of voters in Scotland want to break up the Union, compared with 46% who do not, the poll revealed.

Mr Moore is to address the Confederation of British Industry in Edinburgh on Monday and the Advocate General will be setting out the legal situation with the referendum at Glasgow University on Friday.

Mr Moore said: "Since Tuesday, when I set out our plans for how Scotland can hold a legal referendum, I have spoken to the First Minister and asked him to meet for talks. I have also written to him.

"I was pleased to hear him suggest talks with the UK Government and I want us to meet in Edinburgh this week to start making progress.

"We want this referendum made in Scotland and we should start the work this week in the nation's capital."

Under Westminster's proposals a referendum could be held within 18 months on the single yes-or-no question of whether Scotland should become independent of the UK.

No date has been suggested for the poll, though ministers are prepared to set a deadline once the consultation ends on March 9.

Edinburgh wants to delay a poll until autumn 2014 and to leave open the possibility of a third "devo-max" option on the ballot paper, which would allow Scotland to take on greater self-determination in financial matters but remain part of the Union.

Meanwhile, former chancellor Alistair Darling has warned of the "immense" economic difficulties Scotland would face if it voted for independence.

The Scottish MP for Edinburgh South West, who has emerged as a leading candidate to head the pro-Union campaign, told The Observer that the risks would be "amazing" and not worth gambling on.