Scottish independence: ‘Leave referendum question to experts’

Pro union parties have called for independent experts to devise the referendum question
Pro union parties have called for independent experts to devise the referendum question
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AN EXPERT commission should be established to come up with a single “yes-no” question for the independence referendum in 2014, pro-union parties in Scotland have demanded.

Labour’s Johann Lamont, Conservative Ruth Davidson and Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie have united to demand a “clear, fair and simple” question to be determined by constitutional experts.

But the SNP government insisted that it will come up with the question, although the country’s election watchdog – the Electoral Commission – will have an advisory role.

The SNP officially backs a single question but is open to a third option of more powers for Holyrood, widely known as devo max, being on the ballot paper. This has growing support from business leaders, third-sector chiefs and other civic Scotland groups. The Scottish Government’s proposed question is: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” But this has prompted claims that it is weighted in favour of a positive response.

The three leaders of the pro-union parties are now demanding an independent body be established to develop a suitable question. This would then be submitted to the Electoral Commission.

“We believe that the process of setting a single question should be taken out of the hands of elected politicians and given to relevant experts the public can have faith in,” Ms Lamont said today .

“All the parties agree that a single question is what we want. We are now calling on Alex Salmond to join us to ensure the wording of it is clear, fair and simple – and most of all trusted by the Scottish people.”

They have suggested an “eminent academic” of the same status as Professor Ron Gould – the expert called in after the 2007 Scottish election fiasco – should be tasked with putting together a group of experts.

But a spokesman for the SNP’s parliamentary business secretary Bruce Crawford said: “The anti-independence parties said that they wanted the independent Electoral Commission to test the referendum question, and that is exactly what will happen.

“The Scottish Government announced in May that as well as the Electoral Commission having responsibility for regulating the referendum – as set out in our consultation document – the commission will test the ballot paper, including the question. This will be done towards the end of this year.”

But Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie today hit out at the response. “It is disappointing that the Scottish Government have reacted so negatively to such a positive and consensual proposal,” he said. “This referendum needs to have the agreement of all of Scotland, not just the SNP.”

Ms Davidson said the referendum question holds the key to the “most important” decision Scotland has faced in 300 years.

“Such a task should be given to respected constitutional experts who are best placed to decide on the fairest form of words to be put on the ballot paper for the proposed referendum, and all parties need to be satisfied with the process,” she said. “We need a speedy resolution to this issue.”