SNP concerns prove unfounded over spending limits

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THE campaign spending limits unveiled yesterday draw a line under SNP fears that the independence campaign may be outspent by its pro-Union opponents.

Both sides will be able to spend about £3 million each in the crucial 16-week “restricted period” leading up to the referendum next autumn, under the figures set out by the Electoral Commission.

Nationalists feared they may lose out when the commission first announced each party’s allocation should be based on parties’ “share of the vote at the 2011 Scottish Parliament election”.

Based on rules set for the Welsh Assembly referendum on more powers in 2011, the SNP had said this could mean both them and Labour would be able to spend £1.5m each, but the Tories and Lib Dems also able to spend about £900,000 each, with the pro-independence Greens frozen out.

That would have given the pro-Union parties a near £2m advantage, prompting Nicola Sturgeon to threaten to overrule the commission at the SNP conference last year. She also revealed this had been the major stumbling block in negotiations with the coalition government ahead of the Edinburgh Agreement being signed, which paved the way to the referendum.

The SNP earmarked a £750,000 limit on the main campaigns and £250,000 for each party. A significantly higher limit has now been set out by the commission, but crucially for the SNP it guarantees a “level playing field” for each side and was immediately accepted.

The limits will give both lead organisations, Better Together for the Unionist side and the Yes Scotland pro-independence campaign, a limit of £1.5m each to spend. The SNP has a limit of £1.34m, with Labour allowed to spend £834,000, the Tories £396,000, the Lib Dems £201,000 and the Greens £150,000.

In total, this gives the independence side about £2.99m to spend, while the pro-Union campaign has £2.93m.

It doesn’t guarantee this money will be spent, with Green co-leader Patrick Harvie yesterday playing down the prospect of his party raising such a sum. But the independence campaign has a £2m campaign war chest after a £1m donation by lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir and a similar bequest from late makar Edwin Morgan.