SNP to change independence referendum question

A copy of the Scottish referendum consultation document. Picture: PA
A copy of the Scottish referendum consultation document. Picture: PA
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THE Scottish Government has today agreed to change the proposed question that Scots will be asked in the independence referendum next year, after a recommendation from the country’s elections watchdog.

• Recommended question to be ‘Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes / No’

View the Electoral Commission report in full

And a series of other recommendations from the Electoral Commission on the referendum have been accepted by the SNP.

Both the Scottish and UK Governments must provide a clear picture of what will happen after the referendum - whether Scots vote `yes` or `no` to leaving the UK, the organisation has said. This prompted Nicola Sturgeon to call for fresh talks withthe Coalition about the prospect of Scotland leaving the UK.

Voters will now be asked “Should Scotland be an Independent Country?” in next year’s historic vote after the change was proposed by the organisation.

The SNP had initially wanted to ask “Do You Agree that Scotland Should be an Independent Country?” But the Commission found today that the phrase “Do You Agree” could encourage Scots to vote Yes.

Neutral wording

Instead, a more “neutral wording” should be adopted and the Commission recommend that the question is changed to “Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes / No”

Ms Sturgeon said today: “While its view is that our proposed question was clear, simple and easy to understand, I am nevertheless happy to accept their recommended change.

“Their advice is based on rigorous testing and we will submit the Electoral Commission’s recommended question – ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ – to the Scottish Parliament as part of the Referendum Bill.”

John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland said: People told us that they felt the words ‘Do you agree’ could lead voters towards voting ‘yes’.”

The Commission has been assessing the question that Scots will be asked and the issue of campaign funding, as well as other aspects of the referendum in the past few weeks

The research also showed that voters want factual information ahead of the referendum. It says clarity about how the terms of independence will be decided would help voters understand the arguments surrounding the historic vote.

Holyrood and Westminster must provide clear picture of what will happen post-referendum

The UK and Scottish Governments are now being urged to set out clearly what process will follow the referendum, for either outcome, so that people have that information before they vote. Both Governments have been asked to agree a “joint position.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “I have been calling for the UK Government to enter discussions to allow the voters to be better informed, but so far they have refused. This would not be pre-negotiation on the terms of independence but vital information for voters that will allow them to make an informed choice in autumn 2014. Given the Scottish Government is accepting all recommendations from the Electoral Commission I would hope that the UK Government is prepared to do the same.”

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore today said today that the UK Government is in the process of setting out an “evidence-based analysis” of Scotland’s position in the UK - and some talks could be held about this.

“We have already been setting out our views in public on the issue of the post-referendum process,” he said.

“We will spell out further thoughts on this process in our forthcoming analysis papers, including our first paper, in February. Once this has been published, we will be happy to discuss our paper with the Scottish Government.”

The Commission also today proposed significantly higher spending limits than those initially earmarked by the SNP. Nationalists had feared that the the higher limit could see the SNP heavily outspent by their pro-union parties, but today’s figures do provide a level playing field which has appeased the Scottish Government.

The Commission has also come up with spending limits that would give both lead organisations, Better Together for the unionist side and the Yes Scotland pro-independence campaign, a limit of £1.5 million each to spend. The SNP has a limit of £1.34million, with Labour allowed to spend £834,000, the Tories £396,000, the Lib Dems £201,000 and the Greens have £150,000.

Ms Sturgeon says this delivers “a level playing field and will allow a fair and balanced debate.”

She added: “I am also pleased that the Commission has modified the position set out in their response to our consultation in March, as this would have resulted in an imbalance between the two sides of the campaign.

“We have always said that Scotland’s referendum will be run to the highest international standards of fairness and transparency, and the Electoral Commission plays a vital role in that.”