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 362.

    Why is it we keeping getting referendums to please minorities and to satisfy tribal differences (I refuse to use racial terms to satisfy politcal correctness ) . But why why will they not have a referendum for an English Parliament and for being in or out of EU. Why becuase they are frightened and onl believe in selective democracy . Instead of these pointless minority votes .

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    The SNP think if Scotland became independant it would happen with the flick of a switch with no consequences but the truth is it would be a disaster for Scotland, and it's people, Scotland would become like Albania or even a Third World Country. Alex Salmond is becoming more like a dictator with each day that passes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    Why are people so keen to gain independance from England only to fully integrate with the EU? Whats the point? Regardless of what anybody thinks of the UK government at least they are elected. The EU is corrupt, bureaucratic, destroys sovereinty and will impose whatever ridiculous legislation they see fit on Scotland. I don't want my country run and destroyed by THEM!

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    Far too many childish comments on this subject.Coming from both sides and adding nothing to the debate.
    As a Scot,have no desire to upset anyone in England.Feel sorry for the anti English people..Am sure many English people feel the same about anti Scottish comments.
    It is not race that has driven a wedge between us.
    Politics is a nasty business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    347 & 348.

    You're correct, but no informed person uses that as an argument. The arguments for union I've heard are more about culture and "sticking together".

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    Since Scotland puts more into the UK coffers than it takes out and that doesn't even include the oil revenues,, will the RumpUK (or whatever they will call it) lose it's AAA rating when Scotland beomes an independent country again ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    @scirop. Why based on population size? Because its the norm? How much do you think this independence would cost the rest of the UK? It's funny how the SNP can claim a huge amount of our oil wealth, yet only 10% of the debt.

    I love Scotland, but if they want to go then we can't stop them. It's not fair if the rest of the UK gets screwed over in the process though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    Frankly, I am amazed that the Leader of a devolved assembly representing just 8% of the UK population is being allowed free rein to call the tune on an issue of such fundamental importance to the future of the entire Union. The Government in Westminster is sleep walking, and it is time a halt was called to this pantomime that has been subsidised by the UK taxpayer for too long.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    Surely I'm not the only independence-supporting Scot who is constantly wearied by the asinine argument that we are somehow subsidised by the English? With UK National debt now having reached £1,000,000,000,000 (!) who is subsidising the 90% of people on this island who are not living north of the border?

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    How about the rest of the Union having a vote to see if we want Scotland to be part of the Union. The sooner Scotland gets it's independence the better, goodbye!

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    George Saint Albion-Bulldog
    Well said! for a man with a dubious tag! Should we doubt where your affiliations lie!? Your right of course but is not glorious infantile fun reading these comments!
    Andrew St Alaba - Scottish Deerhound!

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    Just remember, even if the referendum says "yes" to full devolution, it can only happen IF Westminster approves the terms and conditions. That is some degree of safeguard to those who are concerned about the downsides of full devolution, including the costs to other countries. On the referendum itself, it should be drafted as simple as possible to avoid confusion...a straightforward YES or NO.

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    I am sick of hearing Salmond bang on. I am sick of him trying to wring the most personal gain he can from the situation. To be honest, I would be happier if Scotland left, got on with building the Socialist paradise they clearly believe they deserve and left us with what we wanted to do. At least would stop carping about English "oppression" while pocketing buckets of cash. Can you take Wales?

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    Salmond was owned by Paxo.

    What chance has he got running an independent country, when he can't blame London anymore, if he can only squirm in a wee interview with a Journalist?

    Maybe he'll run off to his Clause 28 loving friend for some more cash to buy another TV station to go along with BBC Alba, and have some tame interviews for the next few years...

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    When are you guys going to stop buying the fallacy (perpetuated by the Unionist parties) that you are subsidising us? It really is becoming quite tiresome. Independence (and the future of our counrty) is a matter for the Scottish people.
    And for the record, the SNP government are at least attempting to tackle the unfortunate issue of bigotry that exists in certain pockets of our society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    I found this online and it should show the Ignorant unionists that they are all pedalling lies. And to all the English that think us Scots are subsidised by them.......................have a read at the facts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    340.minuend "Will the BBC apologise for the behaviour of Jeremy Paxman who compared Scotland to Zimbadwe???

    Any chance you could try some original thinking?

    p.s. where is "Zimbadwe" at least spell it right, when u cut n paste for next time

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    Confidential papers recently published under the 30 yr rule on the anticipated oil revenues by the Scottish Office & the Lies contained therein. It turns out the estimates argued by the SNP at the time were ridiculed by the unionist parties and yet 30 years later the facts are out. The only good thing is we are better prepared for the barrage of lies now eminating from the unionists,once bitten !

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    @323 "Scotland has had a fortune spent on it by Westminster over the last 300 years."
    Yes, lucky us, we in Scotland have never, ever, not once, paid any taxes. Whatsoever. Ahem...

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    I admire the Scottish stance in this. The need to be a more integral part of Europe is recognised by their politicians, as opposed to the dinosaurs we have in England. I hope Scotland gets its independence, and that they succeed in being players on the world stage, instead of being regarded as "just another bit of England", which is what the tory government would like.


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