Fewer than a third of respondents to the SNP’s consultation on the independence referendum supported having a second question on the ballot paper, the government disclosed yesterday.
Publishing the details of the public response to the consultation, Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, claimed the results showed overwhelming backing for asking voters a single question on whether Scotland should leave the UK.
According to analysis of the 26,000 responses submitted to the government, a total of 62 per cent supported a straight yes-or-no question on independence.
Ms Sturgeon yesterday maintained that analysis of the replies showed public opinion was broadly in tune with the principles outlined in the “Edinburgh Agreement” on the referendum signed by Alex Salmond and David Cameron.
The agreement will lead to the transfer of the power from Westminster to Holyrood to hold a legally binding referendum by the end of 2014 through a parliamentary procedure known as a “Section 30 order”.
Ms Sturgeon yesterday insisted the findings showed “broad support” for the SNP government’s key proposals, including on the question, the referendum timing, votes for 16- and 17-year-olds and campaign spending limits.
Almost two-thirds of the respondents, or 64 per cent, backed the wording for the Scottish Government’s proposed ballot paper question: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?”
There was also support for the SNP’s plans to hand the vote to young people aged 16 and 17, with 56 per cent of respondents supporting an extension of the franchise – another key part of the Edinburgh Agreement.
And there was majority support for setting strict campaign spending limits of £250,000 for political parties in the run-up to the vote, with three in five respondents either backing the restrictions or favouring a cap on finance in principle.
The SNP government’s proposed timetable, which would result in the referendum question being put to Scots in autumn 2014, was supported by 62 per cent of those taking part in the consultation.
There were 36 per cent who either opposed the SNP’s preferred timing or who had unclear views on the timescale of autumn 2014.
Almost half of the respondents, or 46 per cent, agreed with the idea of holding the vote on a Saturday, with 32 per cent opposed to shifting the traditional polling day from Thursday.
The Deputy First Minister dismissed the opposition criticism that the details of the responses should have been published before the signing of the agreement between the First Minister and the Prime Minister.
In a statement to MSPs, she insisted that the responses would “influence and inform” the final referendum bill presented to parliament early next year.
Ms Sturgeon promised the government would refer its preferred referendum question to the Electoral Commission watchdog, which has been handed a role in judging the neutrality of the wording that appears on the ballot paper.
Labour MSP Richard Baker said: “Mr Salmond may have sought the opinions of the 26,000 Scots who took part in the consultation, but then promptly ignored them.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie claimed that Mr Salmond had wanted to use a question on devo-max to rig the result of the referendum, but was forced scrap the plans due to a lack of backing for the option.