LONDON -- Scottish leader Alex Salmond clashed with the British government Wednesday by insisting that the people of Scotland should set the terms of a referendum on independence, not British politicians.
British Prime Minister David Cameron's government favors allowing the Scots a vote on whether their country should become independent, but suggested that Scotland should choose between total separation and the status quo.
But Salmond told the BBC Wednesday that the Scottish parliament should decide how to frame the question posed to voters. He said Scotland should also be allowed to decide if it did prefer a third option of more independence from Britain that stops short of total separation.
Salmond's party has long campaigned for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom and go it alone. Scotland now has a legislature that governs its own internal affairs and social policies, but cedes control of foreign policy and defense issues to London.
Salmond has said he will hold a vote on Scottish independence in the fall of 2014. Cameron -- who opposes any breakup of the United Kingdom, which also includes Wales and Northern Ireland -- has urged Scotland to make its intentions clear "sooner rather than later," arguing that a lengthy period of uncertainty would harm Britain's economy.
Scottish minister Michael Moore, who has responsibility for Scotland in Cameron's cabinet, told lawmakers that Scotland's parliament did not have the legal power to hold a referendum and that any plans must be approved by Britain's parliament.
He added that Scotland must decide if it "should go its own way or stay part of the most successful multination state in the history of the world."
He said that any debate on the future of Scotland should begin straight away.
But Salmond insists the Scottish parliament does have the right to run a referendum and to set the timetable for the debate.
"Our conditions are quite clear: This must be a referendum built and run in Scotland, accountable to the Scottish Parliament," he said.
Salmond criticized the British government for having "the idea that London knows best and it is operating in our best interests but wanting to set the ground rules for our referendum despite the fact it has got no mandate whatsoever for doing so."