Any attempt by David Cameron to impose a time frame on Scotland's independence referendum will only increase support for the SNP, Alex Salmond's deputy has claimed.
At cabinet in London on Monday morning, ministers will discuss plans to make any referendum on Scotland leaving the UK legally binding. The prime minister is expected to impose an 18 month deadline for any binding referendum. However Cameron has denied he is attempting to "dictate" anything to Scotland.
"I think it is a least rational to put to the Scottish people 'Would it be better to have a more fair and decisive question put earlier?'" the prime minister told Sky News.
"We are not going to dictate this. We have first of all got to resolve this legal uncertainty and then try and work with the Scottish government on making sure there is a fair, clear and decisive outcome."
But Nicola Sturgeon has shrugged off Cameron's intervention, saying "we'll stick to the plan" to ask the people of Scotland about independence in the second half of the SNP government.
She labelled the prime minister's comments about timing as "a blatant attempt to interfere in a decision that is rightly one for the Scottish government".
"There is clarity in Scotland and I'll tell you something. I think most people in Scotland listening to David Cameron will say and think, 'Here we go again. Another Tory-led government trying to interfere in decisions that rightly belong to the Scottish people.'
"Now, perhaps I should be relaxed about that because the more a Tory government tries to interfere in Scottish democracy then I suspect the greater the support for independence will become," she told Radio 4's Today programme.
Sturgeon indicated that the referendum would include three questions, yes to independence, no to independence and a third option labelled 'devo-max', more devolution without Scotland leaving the United Kingdom.
"There is a significant body in Scotland that wants to see financial independence, more economic powers short of independence. At the end of the day the decision on the future of Scotland should be for the Scottish peoplle... We've never ruled out a second question to give people in Scotland maximum choice."
But a government source told the Guardian: "We are not going to allow this issue to be decided on the basis of a rigged debate organised by Salmond. It is going to be a fair debate."
Responding to an accusation from Cameron that there was no clarity over the SNP's position, Alex Salmond said on Sunday that his party's position was "very clear".
"The Scottish government achieved an overwhelming mandate from the people of Scotland to hold the referendum in the second half of this parliamentary term, and that is exactly what we will do."
Cameron's decision to take on Salmond's timetable was questioned by constitutional expert professor Robert Hazell who said the government maybe "over-reaching themselves" in attempting to determine a timetable for any referendum.