Independence question raised again in Scotland
By Honor Mahony
The question of Scotland's eventual independence from England returned to the fore on Tuesday as the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) outlined plans for a referendum on ending union with England.
SNP leader Alex Salmond tabled a paper in Edinburgh on what he called a "new chapter in Scottish politics."
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He called for a "national conversation" towards a referendum that would offer either the political status quo, more powers for Scottish parliament or complete independence.
However, UK media report that the final outcome is likely to be a compromise allowing more powers to the Scottish parliament.
Mr Salmond has power as he is the first minister in the Scottish parliament but his party does not have a majority.
Most of the other MPs in the parliament are not in favour of full independence while support among the public for the idea is around 30 percent.
The topic is a hot issue in Scotland however, which has been in union with England for 300 years but which continues to have a separate legal system.
At the moment, Scottish parliament has some say on education and health but defence and foreign policy are dealt with by Westminster.
The 'national conversation' website on the whole independence question, officially opened by Mr Salmond on Tuesday, already has over 600 comments.
Many of the comments are in favour of independence or at least supports putting the question to Scottish people. Some, however, feel the SNP should be concentrating on more immediate issues.
"My concerns are in the price of fuel, council tax, healthcare, policing and short term job contracts as the norm," said one contributor from Cumbernauld.
The SNP wants to table a bill on the issue and then hold a vote on it in 2010 - however Mr Salmond appeared to concede this was only a hope rather than an actual fixed timetable.
"I would hope we can arrive at a position where these matters will be tested in 2010" he said, adding "Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day, not even 100 days."
The SNP paper suggests that independence from Britain would not mean a complete split.
Rather than a constitutional union, it would take the shape of a "monarchical and social union."
If the Scots were ever to vote in favour of independence, it would raise certain legal questions for the EU such as whether it would have to formally apply for membership and whether it would be legally obliged to join the euro - an obligation for all new EU entrants.
Other questions like its voting weight for taking decisions and the issue of a possible Scottish commissioner would also have to be worked out.
Such a scenario would likely also fuel other regions in Europe such as Spain's Catalonia.