The Scottish Government must not dictate the wording of the question asked in any second independence referendum if the public are to have confidence in the process, pro-Union campaigners have warned.
Scotland in Union chief executive Pamela Nash said it was now accepted that Yes/No questions were “too leading” for complex constitutional votes.
Ministers unveiled a new bill last week which lays the foundations for a future plebiscite north of the border, with MSPs to be given a vote on the legislation by the end of the year.
The bill provides a “legal framework for the holding of referendums on matters that are within the competence of the Scottish Parliament”, accompanying papers said.
But the Tories claimed it would mean ministers “would have the power to set any referendum question, at any time, on any matter of their choosing”.
The SNP’s constitutional relations spokesman Mike Russell told MSPs that if the UK quits the EU without a deal there would be “an even greater urgency to give Scotland a choice of a different future”.
The question asked at the 2014 referendum – “Should Scotland be an independent country?” – was set by the independent Electoral Commission after being tested for intelligibility.
Ministers had originally intended to ask “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” but it was found to be a leading question.
The bill published last week pledges the Scottish Government would consult the Electoral Commission on any future referendum but does not commit to the body testing the question.
Nash said: “There is no public appetite for a divisive second independence referendum, and only a fifth of people in Scotland support Nicola Sturgeon’s timetable.
“If there ever is a future referendum, it’s absolutely vital that the public has full confidence in it and the question isn’t just dictated by the SNP.
“The vague wording in the bill to only consult with the Electoral Commission will cause considerable concern – especially as it is now accepted that Yes/No referendum questions are too leading.
“The SNP should not be wasting precious parliamentary time on this unwanted bill, but if the legislation must go through it is important to remove any ambiguity.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Section 3 of the bill sets out matters relating to the wording of a referendum question, including consultation with the Electoral Commission. The purpose is to ensure that the question is intelligible to voters.
“As in 2014, it will be for Parliament to decide on these matters – both the proposals in the bill and any regulations made under it, including on setting a question – and we will listen to all views.”