Scottish independence referendum: SNP wins concession from Westminster on ballot supervision
SCOTTISH Secretary Michael Moore is offering a key concession over the holding of the independence referendum saying Holyrood, not Westminster, should supervise the running of the ballot.
Moore said he planned to change the law so that the Electoral Commission, which supervises elections and referendums across Britain, is made to report to the Scottish Parliament on the poll.
SNP figures want to avoid the referendum ending up being run by a body answerable to the Westminster parliament alone and the issue has emerged as a major sticking point.
In an attempt to smooth over the differences between the two administrations after a week of constitutional wrangling, Moore said that under his plans “we [the coalition government] would alter the current framework to tell the Electoral Commission to report to the Scottish Parliament rather than Westminster”.
In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Moore also made a fresh call for a straight in-out vote on independence, saying plans for a vote on “devo-max” – full tax-raising powers for Scotland – would lead to a legal challenge. He also insisted that Holyrood cannot be handed more powers without support from the UK, as they would have an impact on everyone across the country.
Moore is taking a Westminster-ordered central role in referendum negotiations, despite First Minister Alex Salmond’s call for face-to-face meetings with coalition leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg to thrash out areas of conflict. Yesterday, Moore specified that he wanted to meet Salmond in Edinburgh this week for talks on the referendum.
UK government sources said they want an outline agreement in principle that Westminster should transfer powers to Holyrood so it can stage a legally binding referendum, with a straight-forward question on independence.
However, senior SNP figures argue that the Scottish population should be consulted first on a series of issues, including whether or not to include the devo-max option.
On the poll, Moore said that the Electoral Commission will “test the question [on the referendum paper] for intelligibility and they would the report to the Scottish Parliament over what they find”.
On the question to be asked, he added: “If we are talking about further powers for the Scottish Parliament, that is about the settlement of the constitution across the whole of the UK. And I think that involves more than just us in Scotland. That is about the whole of the UK.”
He added: “I am very happy that we will continue to debate our future, but at no point in the past did Scotland unilaterally declare devolution… it was done on the back of mandates in elections.”
On the supervision of the poll, the SNP has said previously that a new Scottish referendum commission should be set up. A spokesman said last night that all issues would be considered in the forthcoming consultation, expected to be launched on 25 January.
SNP ministers have said their “preference” is for a single question on independence, but argue that voters should be asked first whether they want devo-max on the ballot paper as well.
The SNP also argues that it cannot ignore civic bodies that are calling for “devo-max” to be included in some way in the referendum debate. In an article in today’s Scotland on Sunday, John Downie of the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), warns it would be a “travesty for democracy” if Scots were “shackled” by a yes-no question on independence.
The wrangling over the number of questions to be asked is set to roll on for months, as the UK and Scottish governments launch consultations on the best way to run the historic referendum.
Last week, Salmond announced he wanted to hold the referendum in the autumn of 2014, but UK ministers say Holyrood does not have the legal powers to do so. The dispute paves the way for a lengthy negotiation on all aspects of the poll.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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