Church of Scotland welcomes referendum announcement

The Church of Scotland has welcomed news that the referendum on the future of Scotland is to take place on 18 September 2014.

Confirming the date on Thursday, First Minister Alex Salmond said it would be "the day Scotland took a decisive step forward".

The Reverend Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church of Scotland's Church and Society Council said: "I welcome the clarity given on the date of the referendum, but what really matters now is how we use the time between now and then."

Campaigns for and against independence have been launched throughout Scotland, although opinion polls suggest Scottish independence is unpopular, with only a third supporting it at present.

The next year and a half will see intensive campaigning by the political parties and campaign groups ahead of the historic vote.

Reverend Foster-Fulton said plans were already afoot to work with local congregations to hold community meetings "where individuals can consider the sort of Scotland they would like to take shape".

She said: "I am excited about participating in them over the next year and a half. These are discussions and decisions that can frame the future vision - independence or not."

Salmond faced criticism from politicians for the belated clarification. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie complained that it had taken the First Minister some 700 days to confirm the date since his party's landslide victory in the Scottish elections.

Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, was equally scathing: "What I do not understand is that why, if leaving the United Kingdom is the key to Scotland's prosperity, why he wants Scotland to languish for another year and a half before we get the chance to vote on it. The truth is Alex Salmond knows if he held the referendum now he wouldn't just lose it he would be routed."