Focus on: Scotland's independence

Kieran Corcoran analyses the referendum deal signed by David Cameron and Alex Salmond

The debate surrounding Scottish independence recently strode forward as David Cameron and SNP Leader Alex Salmond signed a referendum deal to officially put the question of Scotland's independence to its people.

They agreed that the final question - the exact wording of which will be hotly debated - will ask for a single yes/no answer as to whether Scotland should leave the UK. The concession to limit the vote's scope like this is a victory for Cameron, hell-bent on not seeing the 305-year union dissolve on his watch.

Salmond had pushed for a the referendum to include a second question to gauge opinion on "devo max", a more moderate option which would see Scotland financially independent from Westminster, but still politically joined. Supporters of independence would prefer to leave this option on the table, as it enjoys wider popularity than its more hardline sister, commanding a majority in polls, as opposed to full independence which tends to attract only a third of Scots.

However, the single-question format was a victory hard-fought, which saw the government give ground on the key issues of the vote's timing, and the decision to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to participate.

Extending the franchise to more teenagers will supposedly benefit the SNP, as they expect younger voters to be more swayed by the romantic notion of an independent Scotland than the colder economic arguments which are the mainstay of the pro-Union camp. Tories in particular will be riled by the lowered voting age, a Lib Dem pet policy, as inclusion here could pave the way for a younger general election franchise.

The cause for independence scored a second victory in securing the referendum for autumn 2014, when Salmond will hope to ride to triumph on an upswell of Scottish patriotism brought about by the 700th anniversary of the battle of Bannockburn, a famous Scottish military victory over England.

Both camps hope that the agreeing the terms of engagement will let them fight it out over the real issues for the coming two years, rather than wrangling over technical details. Cameron's trip to Edinburgh to sign the agreement last week will be the first of many visits by senior government ministers to Scotland, all of whom will stake out a case for the current union, focusing on positive aspects of unity for Scotland such as the armed forces, energy policy and government welfare spending, of which Scotland receives a disproportionate share.

The immediate reaction has seen Salmond on the back foot, with senior legal figures second-guessing his claim that Scotland would become an automatic EU member, and further worries about the nation's currency should it leave the UK but stay in the pound.

However, the SNP, as ever, will focus relentlessly on an issue which will see an increasingly stretched Westminster fighting to keep Scotland, on top of its day-to-day government responsibilities and a looming general election. It's a long road ahead, and neither side can afford to sit pretty.

We asked students whether they thought Scotland should become independent. Here are three of the best responses...

*"Scotland has been a fundamental part of the UK for so long that splitting up is difficult to get your head around. It's not only what has allowed the UK to punch above its weight historically, but also an important reason we continue to lead the world in diplomacy and in economic areas like finance, luxury goods and the creative industries." *James Mottram, University of Cambridge

*"Obviously Scottish people should have the right to choose - but whether it's a risk worth taking in terms of their economy and infrastructure remains to be seen." *Otti Tilston, King's College London

*"Instead of complete independence, Scotland should aim for greater devolution and enjoy greater fiscal and political autonomy. It is difficult to predict the outcome of the vote in 2014. The national identity and pride of the Scottish people is undeniable, however, people mostly understand the greater implications independence would have on their country."*Anna Buchmann, University of Edinburgh