THE taxpayer paid £15.8 million to stage last year’s independence referendum, with the budget overrunning by £2m more than the cost originally estimated by SNP ministers, new figures have shown.
MSPs were initially told in budgets published alongside parliamentary bills on the referendum that the likely cost associated with conducting the vote on whether to leave the UK would be £13.7m.
Ministers said the additional expenditure was due to the “very high turnout at the referendum” of 84.59 per cent and costs such as employing extra staff at count centres “in order to ensure a prompt result”.
The Scottish Government said vote counting and electoral registration officers had incurred additional costs in planning for and running the poll due to higher than expected participation levels.
Printing additional ballot papers, to ensure that replacements were available to cover for any damaged or misprinted voting forms, also contributed to the £2.1m overspend.
Deputy First Minister John Swinney confirmed the final costs, which included postal expenditure and funds for the Electoral Commission, in an answer to a parliamentary question.
Mr Swinney said: “This additional expenditure was a result of the very high turnout at the referendum which resulted in additional expenditure by counting officers and electoral registration officers in preparing for and running the poll.”
However, opposition parties criticised the Scottish Government for the overspend of more than £2m.
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “We’ve grown used to the SNP government spending taxpayer cash on politics rather than the priorities of the Scottish people.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “Everyone accepts the independence referendum was a historical constitutional event and, therefore, will have had cost implications.
“But the fact remains the SNP said the eventual bill for the taxpayer was going to be much lower.”
Mr Lamont added: “Many voters will feel this was a lot of money to spend for the Nationalists to be told that most people prefer Scotland to remain in the UK.”
Mr Swinney, who is also Scotland’s finance secretary, defended the cost of the independence vote, saying the SNP government’s referendum had been a “triumph for democracy and participation”.
He went on: “That huge and unprecedented modern turn-out of almost 85 per cent saw more than 3.6 million people across Scotland cast their votes on the nation’s future. While the Scottish Government anticipated a very high turnout – potentially of more than 80 per cent – these final costs reflect the significant, additional work done by the chief counting officer, counting officers and electoral registration officers to make sure as many people as possible registered to vote, the ballot ran smoothly and a result was declared as quickly as possible.”