Electoral Commission advises SNP to change Independence Referendum question

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.
The last thing the SNP wants is to actually discuss the nuts and bolts of independence,as support decreases when they do, so if they can divert attention from scutiny of their plans, they will. If they can blame Westminster, they will. However, Michael Moore, Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland has a well deserved reputation for being reasonable and will give them little cause to do so.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Read more by or more about , , , or .
This entry was posted in News.


  • I think the EC was very generous to the SNP. The question doesn’t qualify what independence means or the most obvious consequence of it, leaving the Union. A more fair question would be:

    “Should Scotland leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country?”

    Now that is a fair question. But the SNP are trying desperately to obscure this fact from their arguments.

  • Al McIntosh 30th Jan '13 - 3:01pm

    This represents a huge slap in the face to the Westminster-led anti-independence campaign and a victory for Yes Scotland.

    The electoral commission have fully supported Yes Scotland’s call for pre-referendum talks and directed the Westminster government to agree to talks with the Holyrood government about the issues that would follow a yes vote in favour of Scotland’s freedom next year. So far at PMQs, David Cameron has refused to accept the recommendations of the electoral commission in full, whereas the Scottish Government have moved quickly to do so.

    Unless the UK government agrees to accept the recommendations of its own electoral commission in full and without equivocation, it is they who will be seen to be obstructing Scotland’s right to self-determination and they who are tainting the process with bias.

  • It seems like meaningless quibbling to me. Surely all the questions mean (and will be understood by voters to mean) the same thing. It might as well read: Independent Scotland? (Yah/Boo).

  • Tony Dawson 30th Jan '13 - 7:10pm


    “I think the EC was very generous to the SNP. The question doesn’t qualify what independence means or the most obvious consequence of it, leaving the Union. A more fair question would be:

    “Should Scotland leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country?””

    You’re totally right. How did both Coalition Parties allow this mini-coup for the SNP? Which individuals were involved? It reminds me a bit of the AV fiasco.

  • Keith Browning 31st Jan '13 - 9:20am

    Why dont those south of the border get a vote because it affects us all as well?

  • Why isn’t the question simply:

    Yes we do or No we don’t 😉

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • User AvatarLorenzo Cherin 27th Jul - 2:19pm
    Fiona I agree , and in he great scheme of things if I have to consider a project of this sort , as well as...
  • User AvatarRBH 27th Jul - 2:17pm
    I didn't like this consultation at all - it will mislead whoever uses the results. E.g. I think £2bn should come from scrapping the very...
  • User AvatarRichard Warren 27th Jul - 2:04pm
    Didn't we propose worker directors on boards back in the 1970s, along with the minimum wage and freedom of information? I suppose we ought to...
  • User AvatarDavid Raw 27th Jul - 1:55pm
    nvelope2003 " the Germans are more dominant than ever and there is nothing anyone can do about it so whatever we think about them now...
  • User AvatarPeter Bancroft 27th Jul - 1:13pm
    One idea I think that could be worthwhile looking at would to beef up the role of employee representation on the board, but do so...
  • User AvatarHilton Marlton 27th Jul - 1:11pm
    Surely the best First Lady ever! I'd back her for president. Anyone know the odds to that happening?
Thu 28th Jul 2016
Sat 30th Jul 2016
Mon 1st Aug 2016
Wed 3rd Aug 2016
Sat 6th Aug 2016
Wed 10th Aug 2016
Fri 12th Aug 2016
Sat 13th Aug 2016
Tue 16th Aug 2016
Thu 18th Aug 2016
Sun 21st Aug 2016