Scottish independence: MPs warn lack of rules on referendum campaigns could lead to a ‘free-for-all’

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THE Scottish independence referendum campaign could become a “free-for-all”, MPs warned yesterday as the Electoral Commission admitted it would not be subject to regulations and rules until 12 weeks before the vote.

Members of the Scottish affairs select committee were told that organisations set up to campaign for the referendum would not be subject to the same rules as political parties until the campaign period officially got under way.

Concerns were raised by MPs on the committee, which is boycotted by the SNP, that the Yes to Independence campaign is “a front for the SNP.”

But John McCormick, the electoral commissioner with responsibility for Scotland, described the Scottish independence referendum as “unique”.

He said: “A number of political parties will become associated with umbrella campaigns right from the outset, although it would seem there’s at least two years before the referendum might take place. The law does not take account of that.

“When more proposals come through, when we have something concrete to deal with, we will be giving advice.”

Lib Dem Argyll and Bute MP Alan Reid asked whether before the regulated period it was illegal for campaign groups to accept donations from abroad.

Lisa Klein, the commission’s director of party and election finance, said: “There is no provision on the source of donations received by campaigning organisations for expenditure that would be before the regulated period.”