THE cack-handed way the Prime Minister and his colleagues blundered into Scotland's constitutional debate at the weekend should not be allowed to obscure the real debate on our nation's future.

That is a debate I and my Scottish Government colleagues look forward to having. Because when the facts are set out plainly and fairly, I have every confidence that the case for independence will be successful in the autumn 2014 referendum.

We will bring forward fair proposals in our consultation document later this month so that the process of the referendum can be settled – and we will get on with winning the case.

Loading article content

But the antics of David Cameron, George Osborne and others in recent days will, I have no doubt whatsoever, only increase support for independence.

Let's first of all address the issue of legality. The leading textbook on Scottish constitutional law confirms the Scottish Government's long-held position that a consultative referendum is within the competence of the Scottish Parliament. That is a view endorsed in the pages of this newspaper yesterday by no less an authority than Professor Stephen Tierney, director of the Centre for Constitutional Law at the University of Edinburgh.

The fact that the referendum we propose would be advisory is nothing new, incidentally – we have always been perfectly clear that it would be a consultative and advisory poll, as indeed are normally all referenda conducted in the UK, including last year's Westminster-run AV poll.

What matters, of course, is the political legitimacy and moral authority which flows from such an advisory referendum.

If the independence referendum is to be a legally binding poll, then it would require Westminster and Holyrood to pass a so-called Section 30 order under the Scotland Act. We have absolutely no difficulty with such a proposal. The objection is that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and others have been determined in recent days to attach their own strings to such an order, and dictate the terms of Scotland's referendum from London.

Indeed, the behaviour of the Tory-led Government has been nothing short of Thatcheresque. Support for independence has been rising steadily since the re-election of the Scottish Government with a decisive mandate. But the events of the last 72 hours are only going to increase that support – not least, given there are now fewer Tory MPs in Scotland than there are giant pandas!

The date of autumn 2014 which the Scottish Cabinet has agreed for the referendum is right because it gives the right amount of time for proper consideration of such a historic decision.

Now that we have announced the date, the anti-independence parties should accept this reasonable timetable, and cease their false claims about Scotland's economy.

There is now certainty about the date, and in any case the Unionist claims have been shown to be entirely bogus. The UK director-general of the Institute of Directors, Simon Walker, said he is "relaxed" about the possibility of Scotland becoming independent, and the executive director of the IoD in Scotland, David Watt, has said he doesn't think the referendum makes any difference to business – a view echoed by Scotland's leading entrepreneur Jim McColl.

The reality is some of the world's biggest companies are voting with their feet by bringing jobs and investment to Scotland.

The official Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland statistics show that Scotland has run a current budget surplus in four of the five years to 2009/10, while the UK was in current budget deficit in each of these years, and hasn't run a current budget surplus since 2001/02.

In terms of North Sea oil tax revenues, they are set to generate £54 billion in the six years up to 2016/17 – as much wealth as in the previous six years – and Scotland needs access to our own resources with independence and financial responsibility in order to boost growth, recovery and jobs.

An independent Scotland with access to all our nation's resources will be the sixth-most prosperous nation in the league table of OECD countries – compared to the UK at number 16.

The threat to jobs, investment and prosperity for Scotland comes not from the promise of self-determination, but from Cameron, Osborne and Clegg's disastrous economic policies.

As with so many other aspects of this issue, the anti-independence cabal's claims are riddled with hypocrisy. Not least on the question of votes for 16 and 17-year-olds, who we have suggested should be able to vote in the independence referendum, prompting howls of protest from the Unionists. That is despite Nick Clegg being on record as saying he is "a big supporter of votes at 16", while Labour MPs including Ed Miliband, Douglas Alexander and Margaret Curran voted for 16 and 17-year-olds on the electoral roll to vote in the AV referendum.

Scotland's constitutional future also needs to be seen in a wider, international context.

The UN initially comprised just 51 independent nations. Today that figure has risen to more than 190. Meanwhile, the last big expansion of the EU in 2004 saw the admission of 10 new members – six of them smaller than Scotland and six which had become independent since 1990.

Globalisation has gone hand in hand with a growing desire for nations to take responsibility for their own affairs. Joining the family of nations as an independent and equal nation will see Scotland completing its home rule journey.