LONDON, England (AP) — The leaders of Britain and Scotland will meet for talks on a key independence vote, officials said Sunday.
But Prime Minister David Cameron's office insisted Scottish leader Alex Salmond should first attend talks scheduled for Thursday with Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, a member of Cameron's Cabinet, to thrash out disputes over which authority should set the terms of the ballot.
Salmond has said a vote on whether Scotland should sever its ties from Britain — for the first time since the England and Scotland united to form Great Britain in 1707 — should take place in 2014.
He has also insisted that the semiautonomous Scottish parliament, which has powers over education, health and justice policy and can make minor alterations to income tax should decide when the vote takes place, and how to frame the question or questions posed.
In addition to asking Scottish people whether Scotland should quit the United Kingdom or not, Salmond has said the Edinburgh-based legislature should be allowed to dictate whether to include a third option — a demand for more independence from Britain that stops short of total separation.
Cameron's government has said Scotland's Parliament doesn't have necessary legal powers to hold a binding referendum. It has offered the Scottish administration the powers to hold the vote, but indicated that in return, the ballot should take place within 18 months and ask only whether Scotland should seek full independence.
"The prime minister has made it clear he is happy to meet Alex Salmond, and arrangements for that will be made in the coming days," a spokeswoman for Cameron's office said on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy.
She added that Cameron believes Salmond should first attend a meeting with Moore "to discuss his views on the consultation process".
Cameron, who opposes any breakup of the United Kingdom, which also includes Wales and Northern Ireland, has warned that uncertainty over Scotland's future status could harm Britain's economy.
Moore said he hoped to meet with Salmond in Edinburgh.
"I think it's important that we should get on and discuss what we will do to make sure here in Scotland we create a referendum on the biggest decision we'll ever take in our lives... and make sure it's legal, that it is fair and that it's decisive," Moore said.