Scotland politics

At-a-glance: UK government referendum consultation

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.
  • 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.