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EDINBURGH, Scotland: It’s not a meeting David Cameron is likely to enjoy.
The British prime minister is due to visit the leader of Scotland’s separatist administration today to agree the terms of a referendum that could break up the United Kingdom — the country Cameron leads.
Cameron does not want to be the leader who presides over the demise of the 300-year-old political union between England and its northern neighbour. But, practically, there is little he can do to stop politicians in semiautonomous Scotland asking voters whether they want to
With Scotland, like much of Europe, facing recession and economic uncertainty, the answer is hard to predict.
“I can’t find a job and my prospects are slim,” said Sally Murray, an unemployed office worker in Edinburgh. “I’ve got nothing to lose. Perhaps my prospects would improve by going independent.”
Officials from London and Edinburgh have been meeting for weeks to hammer out details of a vote. Sticking points included the date and the wording of the question.
On Friday, the two sides said they had reached a deal, which is expected to be approved today by Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.
It is likely to call for a referendum in October 2014, as Salmond’s nationalists had desired. Cameron and other pro-union politicians had pressed for the vote to be held earlier, because opinion polls show that only between a quarter and a third of Scots favour splitting the nation.
The referendum will involve a single yes-no question on leaving the United Kingdom, as Cameron’s government wished. Salmond’s Scottish Nationalist Party favoured including a third option of greater autonomy short of full independence.
The deal is likely to give 16- and 17-year-olds votes, another proposal backed by the Scottish nationalists. The voting age in other British elections is 18.
Scotland and England have a complex relationship. They fought one another for centuries, and Scottish children are still raised on tales of Robert the Bruce and William “Braveheart” Wallace. The latter’s story was told, with Hollywood artistic license, in the Mel Gibson film “Braveheart.” Many Scots are also brought up in the Unionist tradition and have a strong affinity with England and the monarchy. The two countries united in 1707 to form Great Britain, with a common monarch, currency and London-based government. AP