Scotland seals terms of historic independence vote
By Maria Golovnina
EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Scotland set up a historic independence referendum on Monday after its leader and Britain's prime minister finalized arrangements for a vote that could lead to the demise of its three-centuries-old union with England.
Scotland's drive for sovereignty, led by its nationalist leader Alex Salmond, echoes separatist moves by other European regions such as Catalonia and Flanders which feel they could prosper as separate entities inside the European Union.
Signed in the Scottish capital Edinburgh, the referendum agreement allows Scotland to ask its people in a 2014 vote whether their homeland should become an independent country or stay within the United Kingdom.
"It's a historic day for Scotland," a visibly excited Salmond said after signing the deal with Prime Minister David Cameron. "Do I think we can win this campaign? Yes, I do."
One of the most contentious issues at stake is the ownership of an estimated 20 billion barrels of recoverable oil and gas reserves beneath the UK-controlled part of the North Sea.
Britain is also worried about the future of its nuclear submarine fleet based in Scotland as Salmond says there would be no place for nuclear arms on Scotland's soil after independence. Moving the fleet elsewhere would be costly and time-consuming.
Cameron, who did not address reporters alongside Salmond, opposes Scotland's push for independence but agrees it is up to its people to determine their future in a vote.
Many Scots are unconvinced. A Comres poll for ITV News found only 34 percent supported independence and 55 percent agreed that Scotland's economy would suffer as an independent country. Continued...