PLANS to impose strict spending limits during the referendum campaign threaten the prospect of “adequately informing” voters, according to the man behind the successful devolution campaign.
• SNP concerned about being heavily outspent
• Holyrood committee is examining the Edinburgh Agreement
• £750,000 spending limit ‘substantially too low’
Spending limits keep voters in the dark, warns campaigner
Nigel Smith, who chaired the cross party Yes campaign in 1997, says proposed spending in 2014 will be half the level of 15 years ago in real terms – but it should double.
Nationalists are concerned that official campaign spending of £1.5 million, along with additional spending for the pro-Union parties, could see the independence side outspent.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that curbs will be put in place, insisting Scotland’s future won’t be “bought and sold for anyone’s gold”.
Mr Smith said the Scottish Government is proposing “substantial deviations” from official legislation, in a submission to Holyrood’s referendum committee.
He said: “The Scottish Government proposes to reduce these depleted sums further to the point that threatens the ability of the campaigns to adequately inform the voters many of whom only come to the issue in the formal campaign.
“In 1997, the Yes side, although spending over £600,000, had insufficient money to inform voters.”
He insists that the Scottish Government’s planned spending limit of £750,000 for the designated lead campaigns is “substantially too low”. He added: “In 2014, the designated campaigns will be allowed to spend around half of the money spent in 1997 in a much more difficult and open referendum.
“Far from halving the real value, spending should, in real terms, be double 1997 if informed consent is to be achieved.”
The Electoral Commission, the government agency that ensures fair play in elections, said the two main campaigns should be able to spend about £1.5m, with additional party spending which would see the SNP and Labour being able to spend £1.5m each, with the Tories and Lib Dems also able to spend about £900,000.
That would give the pro-Union parties a big financial advantage.