Scottish independence: Single question was ‘red line issue’ for Westminster - Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond after the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement last month. Picture: TSPL
Nicola Sturgeon with Alex Salmond after the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement last month. Picture: TSPL
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THE demand for a straight “yes/no” question on independence was a ”red line” issue for the UK Government during negotiations which led to the Edinburgh Agreement, Nicola Sturgeon said today.

• UK Government demanded ‘yes-no’ question

• MSPs pass order to grant Holyrood legal status - before parliament approval

• Electoral Commission testing fairness of referendum question

• Academics warn question lacks ‘clarity’

• Legal challenge to Edinburgh Agreement ‘unlikely to succeed’

“The UK Government was very clear that that was their red line,” the Deputy First Minister said.

“They were very clear that they would not agree to a section 30 order unless it was on a single question. I had a judgement to make about whether the package was satisfactory.”

She told MSPs that the Scottish Government had previously been trying to control the “timing, the question and the franchise” of the vote.

“Given that we got concessions on all of that, my judgement was that that was a package that I felt able to recommend to the First Minister for signature,” she said.

“I still wish that hadn’t been their red line, but it was and we’re in a place now with a section 30 beyond any effective legal challenge.”

The order which gives Holyrood legal power to stage the referendum was later passed unanimously by MSPs on the committee. It will now have to be passed at a full meeting of the Parliament and Ms Sturgeon said this should now looks forward to the “substantive discussion.”

She added: “I believe passionately that Scotland should be an independent country and equal nation. I look forward to making that case with at least some of my colleagues around this table.”

Nationalist backbencher Linda said the agreement was “historic.”

“It moves us forward in the way we believe our country would be best served,” she said.

“It is a very, very big decision we’re moving towards and I think we owe it to the people of Scotland to act with mutual respect.”

The SNP Government is not planning to spell out exactly how an independent nation will operate until a white paper is published next year.

But Edinburgh University experts Dr Nicola McEwen and Navraj Singh Ghaleigh said this timing is “unfortunate”, with the question itself set to be finalised in the next few months.

The Scottish Government plans to ask Scots: “Do You Agree That Scotland Should be an Independent Country?”

The electoral Commission is currently testing this wording to judge whether it’s fair.

Dr McEwen, political scientist, said she did not “envy” elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, in trying work out the “intelligibility” of the question, as she gave evidence to Holyrood’s referendum committee this morning.

She said: “The substance of the question is itself a little ambiguous, in other words, what does it mean, for Scotland to be an independent country?

“I suspect if we asked this question around this table, there would be some differences of opinion, not necessarily on party lines.

“I think it’s quite difficult to judge the intelligibility of the question when we don’t necessarily have clarity on what the substance of the question is.”

But claims that the historic Edinburgh Agreement, which gives Holyrood the power to stage the vote, could be open to a legal challenge were dismissed by the experts.

A House of Lords committee made the claims this week, even if a Section 30 is passed giving Holyrood legal authority to stage the vote.

Mr Ghaleigh, a lecturer in public law, said such a challenge would be “extremely unlikely to succeed.”