The Scottish government has this week unveiled the question that could lead to the end of the union between Scotland and England.
The Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond said he would present voters with a “short, straightforward and clear” choice on the country’s future.
The Scottish government proposes asking Scots: “Do you agree that Scotland shouldbe an independent country?”
A yes vote could see the next Scottish Parliament electionsin May 2016 become the elections for an independent parliament.
The move by Mr Salmond followed indications by British Prime Minister David Cameron that he could pre-empt the Scottish referendum with his own, legally binding poll, using a very different question on the ballot paper.
First Minister Salmond said the run-up to the historic ballotwould be the “most exciting in Scotland’s modern history”.
“At the end of that period, in autumn 2014, people the length and breadth of our country will have their say in Scotland’s independence referendum,” he said.
“Independence, in essence, is based on a simple idea -- the people who care most about Scotland, that is the people who live, work and bring up their families in Scotland, should be the ones taking the decisions about our nation’s future.
“No-one else is going to do a better job of making Scotlanda success. No-one else has the same stake in our future. The people of Scotland should bein charge.”
After launching the consultation document in a statement at Holyrood, Mr Salmond headed to the GreatHall of Edinburgh Castle to”launch the great debate on Scotland’s future”.
“It was in this venue, Edinburgh Castle, that the first recorded venue of the old Scots parliament was held almost 900 years ago,” he said.
“It does stress the continuity of Scotland as an ancient, historic nation stretching back over a thousand years of independence before the Act of Union of 1707.”
The Westminster government -- which insists the Scottish government does not have the legal authority to stage an independence referendum -- wants voters tochoose only between stayingunder London rule or becoming independent.
However, Mr Salmond said: “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 Scottish governmentalso proposes extending the vote to 16 and 17-year-olds.
Mr Salmond’s efforts have received a mixed response from the North’s politicians.
DUP leader Peter Robinson suggested unionists of all kinds should fight against Scottish independence, insisting they should not ‘stand idly by’ as the matter is debated. He lent support to calls that a joint campaign could be a first step in a process of uniting the various unionist parties in the North.
However, his predecessor Ian Paisley contradicted him. He said the Scots “know exactly what they want, know how to get it, and probably would greatly appreciate it if we left them alone to make their own decision.”
Sinn Fein’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness also said the north’s politicians should avoid any discussion on events in Scotland.
“My sense of it is that this is an issue that could be used to create divisions within this house, within the executive and between the first minister and myself,” he said.
“I think all of us should resist thetemptation to be drawn into something that will be decided elsewhere.
“We have our own duties and responsibilities. We have our own agreements stretching back to 1998, the St Andrew’s Agreement, the Hillsborough Agreement.
“What happens elsewhere has to be primarily for the people concerned. My attitude to it is that we would be best advised to steer clear of it.”
Geraldine McNamara, PRO of Republican Sinn Fein, criticised those comments -- as well as Mr McGuinness’s separate remark this week that he might be prepared to meet ‘Queen of England’ Elizabeth Windsor.
Ms McNamara asked if Mr McGuinness was “afraid” to debate Scottish independence because it would show “how his own party have given up the cause of Irish independence”.
“Many people with Scottish connections fought for Ireland’s freedom, not least James Connolly who gave his life in 1916. Now as we fast approach the centenary of his death, Ireland still remains under the British yoke.
“Martin McGuinness shows clearly that his loyalty is to the British government and not those who seek Irish or Scottish independence.”