The warning was issued by the Electoral Commission last night on the eve of the start of the formal “referendum period”, which runs for 16 weeks till the close of the 18 September poll.
Rules applying from today stipulate that no individual or organisation can spend more than £10,000 on campaigning during the next 16 weeks unless they are registered with the Commission as a “permitted participant”.
Campaigners that are registered with the Electoral Commission must report any donations over £7,500 that they have received. They will be published over the summer. The start of the “referendum period” means there are now limits on how much campaigners can spend.
Yes Scotland and Better Together – as designated lead campaigners – have a maximum spending limit of £1.5 million. Political parties have spending limits based on their share of the vote at the last Scottish Parliament election.
It means that the SNP is entitled to spend £1.3 million, Labour £834,000, the Conservatives £396,000, the Lib Dems £201,000 and the Greens £150,000. Other campaigners who register can spend up to £150,000.
A statement released by the Electoral Commission yesterday said it would investigate allegations of wrong-doing. If it found a breach of the rules, action would be taken.
Sanctions, under referendum legislation, include requiring witnesses to attend interviews, entering premises through an inspection warrant and fines ranging from £200 to £2,000.
John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland said: “Campaigners have a vital role to play at any referendum as they set out competing views for voters to choose between.
“At the same time, voters will want to be confident that campaigners are playing by the rules and that there is transparency about how the campaigns are funded. We’ve been working with campaigners to make sure they understand their responsibilities and can comply with the rules and we will be monitoring their activities closely”
Today the Better Together campaign leader Blair MacDougall will mark the beginning of the spending period by campaigning for the United Kingdom in Glasgow.
The No campaign’s figurehead, Alistair Darling, yesterday underlined the Treasury’s analysis suggesting that people in Scotland would benefit from a UK dividend of £1,400 per year each.
Meanwhile, last night the Yes Scotland chief executive Blair Jenkins gave a speech at Glasgow University claiming his campaign was the “biggest grassroots movement in Scottish political history”.
Mr Jenkins said Yes Scotland was promoting a more imaginative and dynamic argument than its unionist counterpart. He said: “We are finding very strong support in communities where people used to be told that their vote didn’t count, that they didn’t have any influence, that they couldn’t make a difference.”