UK & World News
Scottish Independence: Referendum Deal Signed
David Cameron has signed a deal with Scotland's First Minister, giving him the power to hold a referendum on independence.
The Prime Minister and Alex Salmond met at the Scottish Government's headquarters to sign what has been called "The Edinburgh Agreement".
It declares that the UK and Scottish governments will "work together to ensure that a referendum on Scottish independence can take place".
The referendum will "deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland", it adds, making clear that the result will be respected by all sides.
The agreement is the launchpad for a two-year campaign between Mr Salmond's Scottish National Party and the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems, who all oppose independence.
The referendum, in the autumn of 2014, is also likely to make history by being the first poll in the UK in which 16 and 17-year-olds will be able to vote.
After signing the deal, Mr Cameron said: "I always wanted to show respect to the people of Scotland.
"They voted for a party that wanted to have a referendum. I've made that referendum possible and made sure it's decisive, it's legal and it's fair, and I think that's right for the people of Scotland.
"Now we've dealt with the process, now we should get on with the real argument, and I passionately believe Scotland will be better off with the United Kingdom but also crucially the United Kingdom will be better off with Scotland."
Mr Salmond said: "It paves the way for the most important decision our country of Scotland has made in several hundred years. It is, in that sense, an historic day for Scotland and a major step forward in Scotland's home rule journey."
He added: "Do I believe that independence will win this campaign? Yes, I do. I believe we'll win it by setting out a positive vision for a better future for our country economically and also, crucially, socially."
In a victory for Mr Cameron and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, the ballot is likely to be limited to a single Yes/No option.
Proposals for a second question on further devolution short of independence were vehemently opposed by the British Government.
However, the proposal to open the referendum to 16 and 17-year-olds, supported by the Nationalists, is seen as a victory for Mr Salmond and a climb down by the Westminster Government.
The most recent poll on independence suggests support for leaving the UK has dropped. A survey of 995 adults, published last week, showed support for the union at 53%, compared to support for independence at 28%.