Scottish independence: Referendum question set out

The UK government has launched a consultation on the SNP's forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence, asking for public views.

Here is a look at the key points of the document:

  • The UK government wants to keep the United Kingdom together, but, given the SNP's landslide election win last May, "will not stand in the way of a referendum on independence".
  • Scotland makes a huge contribution to the United Kingdom and Scotland benefits enormously from being part of the United Kingdom, for economic, cultural and international reasons.
  • The UK government is clear that the Scottish Parliament does not have the legal authority to hold an independence referendum, because constitutional matters are reserved to Westminster.

How to take part

Deadline: Responses need to be in by Friday, 9 March, 2012.

Address: By letter you can send your response to - Referendum Consultation, Scotland Office, 1 Melville Crescent, Edinburgh, EH3 7HW.

Email: reply@scotlandoffice.gsi.gov.uk

Outcome: The UK government says a summary of responses will be published on the Scotland Office website following completion of the consultation.

  • Any bill introduced in the Scottish Parliament providing for a referendum on independence, if challenged, would be struck down by the courts.
  • The UK government wants a referendum "made in Scotland", with a legal, fair and decisive outcome.
  • Legislation for a referendum brought forward by the Scottish government would likely be successfully challenged in court and the Scottish government would lose.
  • Legislation in the UK parliament would provide a clear legal basis for the referendum.
  • The referendum must be "decisive" by being held as soon as possible and asking a "single, straightforward question".
  • The question of Scotland's constitutional future is increasing uncertainty, especially given the global economic situation.
  • It might be suggested an "advisory" referendum is within the Scottish Parliament's powers, but would not be legal.
  • Under the Scotland Act of 1998, anyone who thinks the Scottish Parliament has passed a law outwith its competence can challenge it in the courts.
  • Law officers - namely the lord advocate in Scotland, and advocate general and attorney general in the UK government, can refer a bill to the Supreme Court for a ruling on whether it is legal.
  • The UK government could deliver a legal referendum, either by giving extra powers to the Scottish Parliament under a "section 30 order" in the Scotland Act (which set up devolution in the first place) or by passing a bill at Westminster.
  • Using a section 30 order "presents a good way to deliver a legal referendum on independence" by allowing the Scottish government to bring forward its own referendum bill, which would be scrutinised by the Scottish Parliament.
  • The new Scotland Bill, currently going through Westminster, could provide an alternative means of delivering a referendum.
  • The UK government believes the Electoral Commission watchdog - an "independent, well established and credible politically impartial body" should oversee any referendum on Scottish independence to to ensure it is held according to well-established, tried and tested rules.
  • The referendum "franchise", ie who is eligible to vote, should be based on those who were allowed to take part in Holyrood and council elections - basically ruling out the SNP's desire for 16 and 17-year-olds to take part.
  • The UK government has not yet set a specific date for the referendum, or a deadline for holding it.
  • The Scottish government's plan for a two-question referendum - on independence and increased Holyrood powers - is "not right", because it deals with "two entirely separate constitutional issues" and could result in four possible outcomes.
  • Scottish government comparison with the two-question, 1997 devolution referendum, which asked if there should be a Scottish Parliament and a parliament with tax-raising powers are "not valid", because both questions related to devolution.

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