FAILURE by the Scottish Government to accept the advice of the Electoral Commission on the rules and question of the independence referendum could lead to a legal challenge in the Supreme Court, members of the House of Lords warned yesterday.
The claim was made as peers agreed to the Section 30 order to allow Holyrood to organise a referendum on independence.
But leading Scottish figures from all sides of the House criticised the UK government for its “weak negotiation” in drawing up the Edinburgh Agreement.
Former Tory Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth also attacked the “quite disgraceful behaviour” of the Scottish Government’s chief civil servant, Sir Peter Housden.
This followed claims made by former chancellor Alistair Darling on Tuesday that Sir Peter has allowed the Scottish Government civil service to become politicised by the SNP.
During the debate, Lib Dem former deputy first minister Nicol Stephen warned of a “constitutional crisis” if the SNP does not accept the advice of the Electoral Commission. He pointed out that the SNP was the only party not to commit itself to accepting the commission’s advice, despite having “ample opportunity to do so”.
Warning of a possible legal challenge, he said that if the SNP went ahead with its own question it would be “biased”.
He added: “If it is biased, then it will not be fair, which will be a breach of the Edinburgh Agreement. In that case we will have a serious constitutional crisis.”
Labour peer Lord Foulkes said: “Be in no doubt there could be a legal challenge.”
Several former Scottish secretaries, including Lord Reid, Lord Forsyth and Baroness Eadie, criticised the UK government’s “weak negotiation” in coming up with a deal where there was no date for a referendum or question agreed.
Lord Forsyth claimed that giving First Minister Alex Salmond control over a referendum on Scottish independence was like putting a fox in charge of the chicken coop.
He also warned of a “creeping complacency” in the unionist campaign that was “very worrying”.
Lord Forsyth said: “We are passing responsibility for the conduct of the referendum to a man who has made it his life’s work to destroy the United Kingdom.
“We are doing so without knowing the question, without knowing the date of the referendum, without knowing the rules on expenses for the conduct of the referendum and without even knowing who is going to be allowed to vote in the referendum – and that is after seven months of negotiation.”
Labour former Cabinet minister Lord Reid of Cardowan said the government had been “weak” and it was not in the interests of Scotland to delay the election until next year.