Scottish independence: Unionist parties hire election experts to propose alternative independence question
A panel of election experts has been set up by unionist parties to formulate a question for the independence referendum.
The trio are tasked with composing a single question for the vote, likely to take place in 2014.
• Election experts tasked by Labour, Tories and Lib Dems to formulate clear and neutral independence referendum question
• Proposed question will be submitted to Electoral Commission for testing; SNP have already pledged to have their question tested
• SNP’s proposed question has been criticised for encouraging positive response
Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats say the move will ensure a clear and neutral form of words for a straight Yes-No ballot, expected in 2014.
The new panel will be chaired by Lord Sutherland of Houndwood and feature Dr Matt Qvortrup, an expert on constitutional issues, and Ron Gould, who investigated the fall-out from the troubled 2007 Holyrood election.
Their proposed question will also be submitted to the Electoral Commission for testing.
The SNP majority Scottish Government proposes to ask: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”
First Minister Alex Salmond has already pledged that his preferred question will be rigorously tested by the Electoral Commission.
Critics, including Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee, complain the wording invites a positive response.
There is also controversy over proposals to add another option to the ballot offering more devolution short of independence.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: “The question to be put to the Scottish people in the referendum is too important to be left in the hands of politicians and I am confident that we have put together a group of experts who are able to draft a question which is balanced and fair.
“This is an opportunity to agree on one of the fundamental parts of the referendum process in a way that is above party politics and partisan views, and the door is still open for Alex Salmond to join with us and take this forward on a cross-party basis.”
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “In his election manifesto, Alex Salmond promised voters he would deliver a referendum on separation and separation only.
“This process will indeed deliver the clear result to which he is committed and putting another option on the ballot paper would produce nothing but confusion and leave the outcome open to years of legal wrangling.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “It’s important the question is not the gift of a single political party.
“I am very pleased that such an experienced group have agreed to work together to help Scotland have a fair question for the referendum.
“Our original offer to the First Minister to join us still stands. He can help create a question in which the people of Scotland can have confidence.”
The panel will convene in the next few weeks with the aim of presenting a proposed question to the Electoral Commission in the autumn.
Lord Sutherland said: “The most important political question for over three centuries which now faces the Scottish people concerns our constitutional relationship with other parts of the United Kingdom.
“A referendum which proposes such a choice requires a clear, understandable and unbiased question.
“To produce and vote upon such a question is the ultimate test of a mature democracy. For this to be done and seen to be done, it is essential to seek the help of the Electoral Commission.”
Dr Qvortrup said: “I am honoured to advise all sides and to be able to bring my knowledge and expertise to bear in this task at such a crucial time for the future of Scotland and the UK.
“It is essential the question is clear and unbiased, and that the outcome reflects the settled will of the Scottish people”.
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Wednesday 19 June 2013
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