Scotland has moved one step closer to a vote on independence as the nationalist leader of the devolved Scottish administration signed an agreement Monday with the UK paving the way for a referendum by August 2014.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) and its leader Alex Salmond always promised a referendum on independence for Scotland. When the SNP won an unprecedented majority in the devolved Scottish Parliament in elections last year, it became possible.
Today the UK government in London and the devolved leadership in Edinburgh agreed to the terms of an independence referendum during a signing ceremony at Edinburgh's St Andrew's House, seat of the Scottish government.
"The Edinburgh Agreement, signed by the Scottish and UK governments today, marks a significant step in Scotland's Home Rule journey," the Scottish First Minister told reporters soon afterwards.
"Today's accord marks agreement on the process and respect for the outcome, from both sides," Salmond went on. "In my view, it paves the way for a new partnership in these islands."
Better out than in
With that he meant a partnership between two independent nation states - Scotland and what would remain of the UK.
Salmond's party has long argued Scotland would do much better if it was not part of the UK, alongside England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
"Scotland funds a large part of the UK through North Sea oil revenues," the SNP Deputy Leader, Nicola Sturgeon, told DW just ahead of the signing.
"And other small European countries that don't have the resources that Scotland has, manage to be independent - and to be successfully independent. And that's the future we want for Scotland as well," she said.
Yet opinion polls have long showed only some 30 to 40 percent of Scots support full independence.
"I worry that this type of vote might encourage the wrong kind of voting from the 'Braveheart' fans, who won't consider the consequences of an independent Scotland," Lori Cormack, from Fife in Scotland, told DW.
She is one of many who think some of those campaigning for independence imagine they can recapture a glorified past, similar to the one depicted in the Hollywood film "Braveheart," featuring Mel Gibson as Scottish independence fighter William Wallace.
Scotland has been part of the UK for just over 300 years, and the government in London is not about to give up that union without a fight. Speaking soon after signing the referendum agreement in Edinburgh, British Prime Minister David Cameron made his priorities clear:
"Now we should get on with the real arguments, and I passionately believe that Scotland would be better off in the United Kingdom. But also, crucially, the United Kingdom would be better off with Scotland. We are better together, we are stronger together, we are safer together. I hope the people will vote to keep this United Kingdom together," Cameron said.
Many say an independent Scotland would struggle financially as it would not automatically be able to lay claims to North Sea oil revenues just because it is being pumped out off the coast of the country.
An independent Scotland would also most likely have to renegotiate its EU membership, which would have potentially major consequences for Scottish businesses.
"The immediate effects would be profound, and in the short term costly," John Cridland, the head of the Scottish branch of the Confederation of British Industry, told his members last month.
"When Slovakia separated from the Czech Republic, it cost the country four percent of its GDP in the following year."
Monday's agreement in Edinburgh between David Cameron and Alex Salmond allows the legal preparations for a referendum to begin, including work on formulating the all-important referendum question. The vote itself will take place in the autumn of 2014.
The timing has been important. With a 2014 vote, the SNP has got their wish of a referendum to coincide with the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn when Scottish forces led by Robert the Bruce defeated English invaders.