By Ray Fleming

OPINION polls show that about 30 per cent of Scottish people are in favour of separation from the United Kingdom, a proportion that has increased slightly in the past year. The big question facing Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, is whether he can convert the figure to 51 per cent by autumn 2014, his preferred date for holding the referendum on this issue that now seems inevitable. As yet favourable Scottish reaction has been primarily nationalistic in character whereas from now on hard economic facts and administrative inconveniences arising from the act of independence will increasingly become issues. Soon the question of European Union membership and the currency issue will loom large along with dozens of other uncertainties.

An interesting question: who will be entitled to vote? If, say, the electoral register were used it would disqualify many people born in Scotland but living elsewhere at the moment and also exclude the 16 and 17-year-olds Mr Salmond wants to have the vote.

Last year Alex Salmond turned the Scottish National Party's 14 point deficit against Labour in parliamentary elections into a near-landslide victory. Changing current opinion on independence is probably a taller order, which may be why the First Minister is arguing for three choices in the referendum -- Yes. No, and the option of increased devolution, an innovation that could lead to interminable and dangerous uncertainty.

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