Does the Scottish government have the legal right to hold a referendum on independence? Alex Salmond and some constitutional lawyers insist it does, the UK government and some constitutional lawyers insist it does not.
The vote Salmond intends to hold in autumn 2014 would be an advisory one (the SNP concedes that it does not have the power to hold a binding referendum) designed to provide him with a clear mandate to negotiate for independence. But in his statement to the Commons yesterday, Michael Moore, the Secretary of State for Scotland, declared that even this would be legally questionable. So, assuming Salmond proceeds, would the UK government challenge him in the courts? Apparently not. Here's what Moore told Scotland Tonight yesterday evening.
Interviewer: The idea that it could be legally challenged, who's going to mount that challenge?
Michael Moore: Anybody could and I don't think that a decision of this magnitude about whether or not Scotland stays part of the most successful multi-nation state in the history of the world or goes its own separate way, I don't think that should be left ...
Interviewer: Would the UK government launch that challenge though?
Michael Moore: While there's a prospect that anybody could, it's not our intention to do that.
But as the blog Wings over Scotland asks, why would the UK government not challenge what it ostensibly believes is an illegal attempt to break up the Union? Moore's words will inevitably prompt questions about the government's true opinion of the legality of a Scottish-led referendum.