In the first stage of a game of call my bluff, David Cameron announced yesterday that a referendum on Scottish independence should be held within 18 months.
The Scottish National Party took over Scotland's devolved parliament after winning a sizeable majority in the elections of May 2010. The main plank in the party's platform was its pledge to offer Scots a referendum on whether to remain in the United Kingdom.
SNP leader Alex Salmond wanted to hold that referendum in 2014 on the 700th anniversary of Robert the Bruce's victory over the English at the Battle of Bannockburn - they are obsessed by history everywhere on this island.
When I was in Edinburgh last autumn I interviewed an SNP member of the Scottish Parliament who reiterated that 2014 was the date for the referendum.
As I noted last month, the British government is taking this very seriously. Cameron is now attempting to scupper the plan and force Salmond to call the election sooner than he would like. The Guardian reports Cameron and his lead political strategist, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, want the Scots to hold their referendum sooner because the uncertainty surrounding the future status of the United Kingdom is hampering the business community and inward investment to the UK. I wonder if they want to bring the referendum forward because they thought holding it around the anniversary of Bannockburn would give Salmond an unfair advantage.
In any case, Cameron's intervention has angered SNP politicians. The BBC reports Scotland's Deputy First Minister, the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon, accused Cameron of "trying to interfere in Scottish democracy".
As of now, my impression is they could hold the vote tomorrow, in twelve months, or two years and the result would be the same. The Scots want out of the current United Kingdom arrangement. They feel disenfranchised by the extreme London-centric nature of the UK. The two main national political parties, Conservatives and Labour, have hemorrhaged support north of the English border throughout the last decade.
All that remains to do is negotiate the terms of the new arrangement for Scotland on this island: full independence or part of a very loose confederation.