- - Wednesday, January 25, 2012

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND For Ben Judge, Scottish independence is about something more than tartan, bagpipes or any other symbol of Scotland’s misty past.

“Independence, to me, isn’t about petty flag-waving,” the 25-year-old law student said. “It’s not about tartan or shortbread or William Wallace or anything like that. It’s about democracy. It’s about a nation wanting full control over its own future.”

Mr. Judge was just 12 in 1999, when Scotland gained a large measure of self-rule within Britain. He soon may have the chance to vote to sever ties with London in a referendum on Scottish independence.

For centuries, many Scots have dreamed of a divorce from England. Now, momentum is growing for a breakup. Nearly 230 years after the United States secured its independence from Britain, Scotland is considering making the break with ballots, not bullets.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond on Wednesday announced plans for a referendum on independence by the fall of 2014. He also called for Scotland to lower the voting age to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to cast ballots on the referendum.

“If a 16-year-old in Scotland can register to join the army, get married and pay taxes, surely he or she should be able to have a say in this country’s constitutional future,” he said.

He told the Scottish Parliament that the question on the ballot would ask: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”

Mr. Salmond added that the referendum also would have an option for increasing home rule while Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom.

Last year, Mr. Salmond’s separatist Scottish National Party (SNP) won the majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament for the first time since 1999, when the legislature reconvened after 292 years.

The British government has insisted that Scotland’s powers do not extend to constitutional issues and that any referendum on independence would be illegal.

Regardless of the legality, a Scottish vote for independence would put pressure on the British government in London to reach some sort of accommodation with the Scots, said Struan Stevenson, a Scottish Conservative whose party opposes independence.


“[Mr. Salmond] says there is no [British] government that could possibly deny the people of Scotland independence if the majority voted … for independence,” noted Mr. Stevenson, a member of the European Parliament. “It will have no legal status … but it will carry hugely powerful weight.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron has urged Scotland to hold a referendum soon because uncertainty over the question of independence is hurting Scottish business.

The SNP insists that more time is needed for the Scots to consider their future.

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