THE unionist parties were dealt a blow yesterday when the Electoral Commission indicated that it will not examine a referendum question composed by an expert panel set up by them to challenge the SNP.
On Tuesday, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats established the panel to compose a neutral, single question on independence to counter suggestions that the SNP favoured a form of words that invited a Yes vote.
The unionist parties had said they would submit the panel’s question to the Commission in the autumn.
However, Electoral Commissioner John McCormick said: “As we said in our consultation response, it’s for the relevant government to propose a question. This should be independently and transparently assessed before it is put to parliament for approval as part of a clear, statutory process. We would not expect to undertake any question assessment that was not part of this process.”
He added: “The Commission’s process for assessing questions includes asking voters, experts, campaigners and politicians for their views.”
The SNP claimed that Mr McCormick’s intervention was an “utter humiliation” for their rivals, “whose ham-fisted attempts to hijack the referendum process have fallen flat at the first hurdle”.
The spokesman added: “The Tory-led cabal which Labour and the Lib Dems have signed up to will not hijack Scotland’s referendum. It will be the people of Scotland who will decide Scotland’s future and will not be fooled by this Tory-led campaign.”
A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “We are pleased that the Electoral Commission’s statement makes clear that experts will have a key role in their assessments.
“The debate is not about who sends what letter to the Electoral Commission, but about who frames the question: politicians or neutral experts.”