The Electoral Commission has published its advice on both the question for next year’s referendum on whether Scotland should leave the UK and spending limits. Both sides of the debate have been quick to accept the recommendations, which means that most of the issues on process should now be resolved.
This means that Scots will be asked next Autumn to answer:
Should Scotland be an independent country? Yes/No
This is different from the SNP Government’s proposed question:
Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?
And also from the rather cumbersome question drawn up by a panel set up by the parties who oppose independence
Scotland should become in independent state: I agree/I do not agree
The rationale behind the 8 words in the new question are outlined in a 47 page report and were summarised by the Commission’s John McCormick who said:
We have rigorously tested the proposed question, speaking to a wide range of people across Scotland. Any referendum question must be, and be seen to be, neutral. People told us that they felt the words ‘Do you agree’ could lead voters towards voting ‘yes.’
The Commission also recommended spending limits for each political party, based on their 2011 Holyrood vote share. This means that in the 16 weeks leading up to the referendum, parties supporting independence, the SNP and Greens, would be able to spend £1,493,000 while those against separation, Labour, Tories and Liberal Democrats, can spend a total of £1,431,000. This is over and above the £1.5 million which can be spent by each of the main campaigning organisations, Better Together and Yes Scotland.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has welcomed the Electoral Commission advice, saying:
Yesterday I said we’d back the Electoral Commission whatever their advice. My position remains the same today.
I will accept their word. They have wisely changed the wording from the SNPs leading question, found a balanced spending formula and set out the need for a clear post result process.
Setting out the considerable process of breaking up a country would help voters understand the seriousness of the decision.
A No vote to reject independence means we would remain part of the UK. It would also open the door to the development of a consensus for more powers for the Scottish Parliament including the opportunity for Home Rule in a Federal UK.
The advice, however, opens up a potential new front for a barney over process. The Commission, not unreasonably, wants voters to be informed of the process to be followed after the referendum. If we vote for independence, how would the final terms for independence be agreed. They say:
We recommend that the UK and Scottish Governments should clarify what process will follow the referendum in sufficient detail to inform people what will happen if most voters vote ‘Yes’ and what will happen if most voters vote ‘No’.We recommend that both Governments should agree a joint position, if possible, so that voters have access to agreed information about what would follow the referendum. The alternative – two different explanations – could cause confusion for voters rather than make things clearer.
* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings