Scottish Independence: IndyRef2 question will not change says Russell

Mike Russell says it would "confuse" Scots to change the question
Mike Russell says it would "confuse" Scots to change the question
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A fresh Scottish independence referendum should use the same question as 2014 because it is "current" and would avoid "confusion" among voters,  Mike Russell has said.

The Cabinet Secretary today defended controversial plans to freeze the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, out of the process of assessing the question.

The move has has prompted concern among opponents who say the watchdog vetoed a similar question with "yes and no" options in the 2016 EU referendum, judging it favoured the positive "Yes" response.

READ MORE: Indyref2 question may not be "fit for purpose"

But Mr Russell warned the 2014 question - "Should Scotland be an Independent Country?" - was now too familiar among Scots to change. He being grilled by MSPs on proposed laws which will pave the way for a referendum to be held, perhaps as early as next year.

"There's a category of question which is extremely important - it is a question which is not an old question, but a current question," he told Holyrood's Delegated Powers committee.

"In my thinking the question which was asked in 2014 remains a current question. It's a question which was approved in 2013 by the Electoral Commission."

He added that the question was actually modified on the advice of the Electoral Commission as a result of testing.

"That question was used up until 2014 in every opinion poll and it's been used since then in over 50 opinion polls on independence.

"There is an issue of clarity and consistency - if a question is current and is in current usage, then why would you change it? It would be very confusing to change it."

The cabinet secretary said if there was a referendum on a fresh issue on an issue such as bin collections, there would have to be a new question tested and used.

But he added: " I do think in this case there is a specific example of a current question which, I think, is well understood and common parlance."

Read more: Electoral watchdog insists on assessing any indyref2 question before it is put to voters
The bill states that, if the proposed question had already been assessed by the commission, it should not have to be assessed again.

This would exclude the commission’s involvement in the same question as 2014 – “Should Scotland be an Independent Country?”

The commission has since ruled out a Yes/No question in the Brexit referendum, instead recommending a Remain/Leave question. This was found to be more balanced after fresh evidence was taken.

Mr Russell suggested the need for consistency outweighs such concerns and such an approach could apply is a referendum is held next year which is the Scottish Government's "chosen date."

He said this is because the 2014 question is "still being used, it's still producing a result that is broadly consistent."

He added: "I just would find it very difficult to understand why you would change that question."

There should be different categories of questions, as well as different categories of referenda, the cabinet secretary added..

"In this case a question which is current on a major constitutional issue I think you would tangle with it with some reluctance."

"There is clarity here which I think should be stuck with," he said.

"I think if you've got a question that's still being used, is used on a monthly basis, then I think it's tautologist to say that we go out and examine that again."