Scottish independence: Months of discussion over question wording
THE ruling by the Electoral Commission on the referendum question comes after months of argument about what voters should be asked on the ballot paper in autumn 2014.
Alex Salmond accepted that the Electoral Commission should be handed a role in helping to frame the referendum question, as part of the “Edinburgh Agreement” signed last October by the UK and Scottish governments to allow a legally binding vote on independence.
The Scottish Government has also said it will listen to the advice of the commission, but the SNP-dominated parliament at Holyrood will make the final decision.
But leading pro-Union figures have demanded a greater role for the commission, with Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary Michael Moore insisting that there was “no other body with the experience and neutrality of the Electoral Commission”.
Mr Salmond set out his preferred question:
shortly after he announced the timescale for the referendum a year ago.
The SNP leader said he was confident that the Electoral Commission would accept his wording of the question.
However, the Electoral Commission is expected to amend the wording of the referendum question to:
The commission said it would choose a form of words which did not lead Scottish voters one way or another.
Critics of independence argued that the question published by the First Minister was loaded and designed to destroy the Union.
Scotland’s main unionist parties intensified the row as they appointed a panel of election experts to compose a single question for the independence referendum. Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, in a direct challenge to the SNP, launched the group last summer.
The group’s members were Lord Sutherland, a former Edinburgh University principal, referendum expert Dr Matt Qvortrup and Ron Gould, who published a critical report on the 2007 Scottish elections.
The pro-Union parties’ commissioned panel of experts said the ballot paper should read:
with voters being asked to agree or disagree.
However, the Electoral Commission indicated that it would not examine a referendum question from other parties, saying “it’s for the relevant government to propose a question”.
The SNP had faced scathing criticism from the Scottish affairs select committee, which called on all parties to come together immediately to draft a “clear and neutral” form of words to be put through “exhaustive” testing by the Electoral Commission.
The committee, which is boycotted by the SNP, drew on comments and evidence from a range of independent experts who were highly critical of the Scottish Government’s proposed wording.
The 1979 referendum on Scottish devolution failed despite the majority of those who voted being in favour, because the result did not meet a pre-determined voting threshold.
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