British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond met today in Edinburgh to sign the agreement under which the British government consents to allow Scotland's independence referendum to go ahead. A 3-1 trade paved the way for the agreement.
Cameron and Salmond had to cut through four disagreements that were blocking a deal. The opponents of Scottish Independence wanted the referendum to be limited to one question: Would Scotland's remain part of Great Britain or go independent.
Alex Salmond wanted a fallback option in case he lost the independence vote by posing a second question, popularly dubbed as Devo Max, calling for maximum devolution including the total powers of taxation. For opponents of independence, this was independence through the back door, because it would create a tipping point in favor of independence. Secondly, it would touch off reverberations within England in a demand for similar rights, particularly as the English believe that they have been subsidizing the Scots.
Another question was the timing. The anti-independence camp, with polls showing a 2-1 margin against independence, wanted the vote to proceed as quickly as possible. The Scottish Nationalists, for the opposite reason, wanted the vote delayed to give them enough time to turn public opinion around.
The Nationalists wanted to lower the voting age to 16 in the belief that independence was favored by younger voters, while more mature voters could not wean themselves away from the notion of Great Britain.
Finally there was the question of who would be responsible for the wording of the question that would be put to the voters?
Under the agreement, the Scottish Nationalists gave way on the first question, meaning the referendum will ask voters if they want independence or not - and that's all folks.
The voting age will be 16. The Scottish government will decide on the date provided that it is no later than sometime in 2014. The Scottish government, checked by the referendum watchdog commission, will be in charge of how the question is worded.
The emerging contours of the agreement produced controversy in Cameron's Conservative Party, with some arguing that the Prime Minister had conceded too much. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, an MP and former Defense Minister, believes that the Prime Minister had gotten the better of the deal because reducing the referendum to a single question was the decisive issue - in light of which, concessions on the other points in contention would prove meaningless.