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Scotland's first minister launches referendum consultation

(Xinhua)

10:39, January 26, 2012

EDINBURGH, Britain, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond Wednesday outlined a detailed proposal for the referendum in the fall of 2014 on whether Scotland should be an independent country.

The consultation paper sets out a proposed ballot paper with one question -- Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

But it also seeks views on the inclusion of a second question. "If there is an alternative of maximum devolution which would command wide support in Scotland then it is only fair and democratic that option should be among the choices open to the people of Scotland," the first minister said while addressing the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

Salmond said an independent Scotland "will continue to share Her Majesty the Queen as Head of State," but will not "have our young service men and women dragged into illegal wars like Iraq," and will not "have nuclear weapons based in Scottish waters and soil."

The consultation paper also asks whether 16- and 17-year-olds who are on the electoral register should be eligible to vote in the referendum.

The first minister argued that if "a 16-year-old in Scotland can register to join the army, get married and pay taxes," then "he or she should have a say" in the referendum.

A total budget of 10 million pounds (15.7 million U.S. dollars), the bulk of which will be spent on running the poll and the count, was also proposed to the public.

According to the paper, the consultation period will be closed on May 11. A finalized Referendum Bill will be introduced to the Scottish Parliament in early 2013 and is expected to be passed in October. The referendum will then be held in the fall of 2014.

The British government wants to keep the United Kingdom together, but given the Scottish National Party (SNP)'s landslide election win in the Scottish Parliament last May, the British government "will not stand in the way of a referendum on independence."

Prime Minister David Cameron said earlier this month that the referendum should be held "sooner rather than later" with a one-question "yes/no" ballot, but only those aged 18 years or older should be able to vote.

The Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour are opposed to Scottish independence, and the leaders of all three parties have promised to fight the cause led by the SNP.

"We are stronger together and weaker apart," Labour leader Ed Miliband said.

There have also been disagreements over the legal authority of the Scottish Parliament to hold a referendum on independence. The coalition government said any vote would be unlawful without its approval because constitutional matters are reserved for Westminster.

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