Scottish independence: Referendum question set out

Alex Salmond Alex Salmond holds up his consultation document which he revealed to MSPs

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond has set out the question he intends to ask voters in a referendum on Scottish independence.

The SNP leader said Scots would be asked: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?" in a ballot which he wants to hold in 2014.

But a consultation launched by Mr Salmond asks if voters favour a second question on more Holyrood powers.

He said the referendum could be regulated by the Electoral Commission.

In a statement to MSPs, Mr Salmond described the question as "short, straightforward and clear", saying the people of Scotland would be asked to make the most important decision facing the country in 300 years.

But Mr Salmond said people would also be asked their views on increasing the Scottish Parliament's powers, short of independence, which has been described as "devo-max".

Opposition parties in Scotland accused the first minister of obsessing about independence at a time of economic strife, while the UK government has urged him to hold the referendum "sooner, rather than later".

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Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said there was "much to welcome" in the Scottish government consultation, but warned: "Any attempt to pass legislation for either an independence or 'devo-max' referendum would be outside the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament and liable to legal challenge.

"We have made it clear that we think the Scottish government would lose such a challenge.

"Clearly, the UK government still believes that it is in the interests of the Scottish people and economy to have a referendum sooner rather than later."

Mr Salmond said the referendum, expected to cost about £10m, should meet "the highest standards of fairness, transparency and propriety".

Mr Salmond told the Scottish Parliament: "The referendum will be held in autumn 2014 on the same terms as any Scottish election, to the same standards and with the same guarantee of fairness. We will decide our future in a vote which is beyond challenge or doubt.

SNP position Unionist position

Wants the referendum in the autumn of 2014

Wants the referendum "sooner rather than later"

Backs a yes/no ballot but the consultation paper also asks if voters want a second "devo max" question

Wants a one question yes/no "decisive" ballot

Wants 16 and 17-year-olds to be able to vote in the referendum

Backs the status quo with 18 and over able to vote

Backs the Electoral Commission's regulation of the ballot

Wants the Electoral Commission to oversee the vote

"Our nation is blessed with national resources, bright people and a strong society. We have an independent education system, legal system and NHS. They are respected worldwide. I believe that if we connect the wealth of our land to the wellbeing of our people, we can create a better country."

A Referendum Bill, introduced to the Scottish Parliament early next year, could be passed towards the end of 2013, with the vote itself being held after the European elections in June 2014, and the Commonwealth Games, which are being staged in Glasgow.

The first minister said Scotland, under devolution, was currently limited in what it could do to create jobs, grow the economy and help the vulnerable.

The public consultation paper - Your Scotland Your Referendum - seeks views on what the ballot paper should say, what spending limits should be set and how the referendum should be managed and regulated.

Mr Salmond said he also wanted to give 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote.

The SNP leader was addressing parliament on the 253rd anniversary of the birth of Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns.

Both Mr Salmond and Scotland's deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, later held a press conference at Edinburgh Castle's Great Hall, attended by 45 journalists from 17 foreign countries.

Westminster ministers have already launched their own consultation on plans for the referendum, saying further powers need to be devolved to make it legally watertight.

Start Quote

For all the poetry and the pomp, this, his [Alex Salmond] fourth crack at a consultation paper, is one of political calculations and assertions”

End Quote Johann Lamont Scottish Labour leader

SNP ministers have disagreed about the legal position, and have accused the coalition of trying to dictate the terms of the referendum, such as its time scale and the wording of what appears on the ballot paper.

The Scottish government said it would welcome the extra legal powers, but warned against them coming with "strings attached".

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie described the statement as more Shakespeare than Burns, saying it was "much ado about nothing".

"While independence dominates the work of his government, our country is gripped by unemployment and rising costs," he said.

"I, as a Liberal Democrat, want home rule within the UK family, sharing the risks and rewards in a turbulent world."

Johann Lamont, Scottish Labour leader, said: "The most important thing is that whichever side wins this referendum, it, and the process to it, is conducted in such a way that the day after it all Scots can come together to fulfil our national duty to make Scotland all it can be.

"Sadly, the first minister declined those talks, and this consultation paper has done little for those who fear this process is not a fair one.

"For all the poetry and the pomp, this, his fourth crack at a consultation paper, is one of political calculations and assertions."

'Wriggle room'

Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson said she was glad that Mr Salmond had set out his preference for a single question on independence.

But she added: "I notice that the first minister has left wriggle room for a second question in there. We believe that the question should be fair and decisive."

And the Scottish Green Party called for the coming months of civic debate to act as testbed for a more inclusive way of doing politics in Scotland.

Its leader Patrick Harvie said: "I welcome the move to accept the oversight of the Electoral Commission by the Scottish government.

From Democracy Live: Mr Salmond's full statement and questions on his consultation plans for the referendum

"Now it's time for Westminster to give ground and allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote."

After the statement, the Welsh first minister, Carwyn Jones, said the latest developments raised serious questions for the rest of the UK.

"Any change in the constitutional status of Scotland is bound to have an effect not just on England but on Wales and Northern Ireland as well," he said.

"My focus will be on ensuring the UK is kept together - four different nations drawing strength from each other for the common good."

Scotland's Electoral Commissioner, John McCormick, added: "Our priority is to ensure any referendum is well run, transparent and focused on voters and we will share our experience and expertise in running referendums when we respond to both parliaments and governments on their respective consultations."

Mr Salmond said he looked forward to discussing this issue with Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and Prime Minister David Cameron "in the coming days".

The Scottish government consultation closes on 11 May.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    What is the physical, measurable, real, basis for perceiving certain citizens of the UK as English? The UK has a wonderful, multicultural society. Why are people being polarised into thinking of themselves as as belonging to one abritary sub-group rather than another. Who stands to gain from polarising the beliefs of people about their identities in this way?

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    All the negativity from some English people and the anti-independence "camp", it's like an abusive husband who continually tells his wife she is useless and ugly so she won't leave.

    Generally, wives are generally better off leaving such marriages. Generally.

  • Comment number 340.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    @ 238. Aquila

    Absolutely - and the same logic applies to our place in Europe, because it's human instinct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    @ 101 "The racism on here is frankly astounding.

    It's doubly sickening for me since I'm an Englishman living in Scotland, I feel shame from the hatred on both sides."

    Just wanted to reiterate this. Although as half Welsh, half English and living in Scotland, I just feel ashamed generally!

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    As a Scot, I'd rather have the Vote as soon as possible and not to suit Alex Salmonds posturing political aims.

    This Vote is for all the people on Scotlands electoral roll and not just about the SNPs aspirirations, Why should we wait until it suits the SNP?

    The whole thing is beginning be taken over by just one party and that does not bode well for a truly democratic dependant Scotland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    Once upon a time we were a bunch of squabbling tribes only very loosely unified and so we got invaded, quite a few times and kicked around and enslaved and generally bullied and robbed until we started to unify, and the more we unified, the stronger we got. That is why we are a top 5 economy and sit on the UN Security Council etc. Now we are busy squabbling again ... better??

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    As a Scot living in Scotland I am not in favour of separation, nor am I in favour of 16-17year olds voting nor of joining the euro. I have voted SNP in the past ( I live in what was a labour stronghold) and am actually quite pleased with my SNP MP but I think Holyrood is a waste of time and money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    If this leads to the UK splitting up a bit at a time, then the last parts to separate will end up paying the administrative costs of restructuring several times over. So if Scotland do vote for independence, then each of England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be made to choose between going independent at the same time as Scotland or else commiting to the union for decades to come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    Its funny how many people outside of scotland want leave yet the people there would like to stay I think the first minister is in for a big shock as very few share his view.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    2 Minutes ago
    That Scots feel under-represented by a UK government with fewer Scottish MP's than its own Pandas is no surprise."

    Scottish MPs = 59
    Scottish MPS (Con or LD) = 12
    Scottish Pandas = 2

    Top maths

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    Will this become the next Arab Spring, I wonder. The UK Spring? Only a matter of time before Wales jumps on the bandwagon as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    The independence debate is an important one which deserves to be treated with respect from both sides, who should be allowed time to present their respective cases. What it does not need is empty rhetoric, strawmen and ad hominem attacks from both sides which reduce the level of debate to that of a playground argument. Sadly, this is what we are seeing just now, which helps no-one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    @297 "The 2014 and Bannockburn anniversary thing to try and stir up racial hatred is a disgraceful tactic."
    Have a look at the date of the Westminster organised Scottish Devolution Referendum, 11 September 1997.The Battle of Stirling Bridge, William Wallace´s best know victory,11 September 1297. Do the maths. And the Westminster politicians have the cheek to complain about the 2014 date?

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    Wake up People. We are already part of europe , our relationship with it would be stronger as an independant nation, and so would that of England, Wales and NI.Check out the voting rights in Europe. How much do we export to them ? ? Some proper debate and less of the condescending attitude from the Unionist camp would be much appreciated. After all “"We're a' Jock Tamson's Bairns".

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    I am from N.I. and the last thing I want to see is the break up of the Union. I also believe that the vast majority of Scots would want the break up either. But to claim that since Scotland has 30% or landmass they should inherit 30% of national debt is the most stupid thing I've ever heard. It should be split up evenly based on population size.

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    I've always considered myself British rather than English & I have always been proud of what we as a group of nations have achieved but I am becoming tired of the Scots, the financial support, the over representation in Westminster & the free subsidized University education.

    If they want to go then go but no picking and choosing the bits they want whilst keeping financial support

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    IF the Unionists are so confident of victory. So confident in their ascertain that "the Scottish People" will reject this, why are they so scared?

    JPJ56 "more power to the "Parcel of Rogues" at Holyrood"

    Such self emoliation may be for unionists who in Scotland like to themselves as Scots but self confident Scots have no truck with responsibility. We are no self haters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    That Scots feel under-represented by a UK government with fewer Scottish MP's than its own Pandas is no surprise. That they were and are a proud, different people is glorious. But please think this through. It isn't 1707 or 1314 any more. Independence will cost us all a packet, NS Oil is nearly gone .. like it or not, the UK stands stronger together. Let's stick together and kick the Tories out!

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    Scotland has had a fortune spent on it by Westminster over the last 300 years.

    Royal Bank of Scotland jobs are predominantly in Scotland and we English bailed it out.

    The oil, according to the UN and international law is for the majority (90%) British, not Scottish.

    The drink/drugs/heart problems in Scotland are a result of what? High IQ and a fair society?


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