David Cameron is to take a high-stakes gamble with the union this week by telling the Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, he can have a binding referendum on Scottish independence – but only in the next 18 months, after which any referendum can be no more than advisory.
He is also likely to tell Salmond he will be forbidden from asking a third question on the ballot paper, over a form of devolution stopping short of independence.
Cameron will publish a consultation paper, probably this week, revealing clear legal advice that the independence referendum will be binding under the Scotland Act only if both parliaments agree to its going ahead. He will say the uncertainty created by the prospect of independence is harming the Scottish and UK economies, and a delay until 2014 is not possible. …
The prime minister said that the uncertainty surrounding Scotland’s future was “very damaging” for businesses. Speaking to Sky News on Monday, Cameron said: “If Alex Salmond wants a referendum on independence, why do we wait until 2014?
“It is at least rational to put to the Scottish people: would it be better to have a more fair and decisive question put earlier?”