The Scottish National Party (SNP) has announced its plans to leave their independence referendum until after the May elections.
In a public statement, Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that her party would "let the people decide" on the issue and also that the issue of secession from the UK would form part of the SNP’s re-election manifesto.
Speculation on a referendum has been growing since their election to office in 2007 and it formed an integral part of the major parties’ election manifestos in the Westminster election in May.
Following Sturgeon’s statement, First Minister Alex Salmond said that independence "was the only way Scotland could protect itself from swingeing Con-Dem spending cuts.
"It will be a major, perhaps dominating, issue not because it is about not giving the people a say in their own future, but because we will be making the link to the economic crisis.
"If we have economic and financial powers then we can deal not with all, but with the majority, of this economic problem, which otherwise we have to deal with within a fixed budget."
In a radio interview, Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray hit out at the Scottish Government, accusing the SNP of “bottling out” of plans for independence and that it was an “embarrassing and humiliating climbdown.” He added that, to him, Mr Salmond had “lost his nerve."
Mr Gray said SNP ministers had wasted more than £2 million on the National Conversation on Independence and were “guilty of abusing Government money for their own party political interest, using the Bill as part of their election campaign next year."
He added: “Alex Salmond just does not get it. The Scottish Government is there to serve the country, not just the SNP and his own political career.”
Other Holyrood parties also seem to take the SNP’s move into their stride. Speaking to The Journal, a Liberal Democrat spokeswoman said: “We welcome the SNP fighting next year’s election solely on the grounds of independence.
“This is very welcome territory for us. We will be campaigning for more jobs and protecting services, while the SNP focus on independence.”
Polls show consistent support for a referendum, including amongst those who support the continuation of the union. Most opinion polls have a figure of 'in-principle' support for a referendum around 70–75 per cent. In March 2009, The Sunday Times published the results of a YouGov survey on Scottish support for independence; support for a referendum was found to have fallen to 57 percent of respondents, with 53 percent stating they would vote against independence and 33 percent in favour.
Within the Scottish Parliament, secession is opposed by Labour, the Conservatives, and the Lib Dems. Since the 2007 election these parties collectively hold 79 of the 129 seats, over 60 percent of the Parliament. Opposition to Scottish independence is also held by many individual figures such as George Galloway, and smaller political parties such as the Scottish Unionist Party and UKIP.
In August 2009 a YouGov survey with the Daily Mail asking if Scottish voters would support independence found 28 percent would vote yes, 57 percent no, 11 percent did not know and 5 percent would not vote.