By Ray Fleming

SO it's to be Thursday 18 September 2014 -- the referendum on Scotland's future, that is. The Yes/No question will be: “Should Scotland become an independent country?” Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond wanted something stronger -- “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”-- but that was rejected by the referendum advisors as insufficiently neutral.

Some four million Scots will be entitled to vote, among them 16 and 17-year olds for the first time in any UK vote.
The opinion polls are already very busy and on the basic issue they continue to confirm the long-standing two-thirds against independence among Scottish people; there was a surge against the status quo when other more leading questions were used last Autumn but that seems to have died.

Rather oddly, in statements yesterday Mr Salmond and his deputy Nicole Sturgeon both cautiously called the referendum a “step” towards independence, hardly the rallying call most people probably expected to hear.

The formal four-month campaign will begin in just over one year but before that there is certain to be keen debate on many of the key issues, including the role of the Monarchy, relations with the European Union, military bases and the position of Scottish regiments in the British army, and the bread-and-butter but administratively complex matters of taxation, welfare and the economy which are currently London government responsibilities.