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 422.

    People are much happier when they choose their own destiny. This is an issue about the dignity to stand on your own as a country and to run your own affairs for good or ill. Doesn't Wales also deserve a similar choice ? And how about a UK referendum on EU membership ? Trading links between UK countries could still remain strong after independence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    Probably best to make a simple qualification for voting, whichever citizens are asked for their opinons: If you can't spell *Independence* you don't get to vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 420.

    @386 "Wales and scotland and ireland all get votes but not ENGLAND.
    But england is forced to have MPs from these areas."

    Keep in mind SNP Westminster MPs don´t vote on issues that don´t directly affect Scotland.

    Yes, shame on the LibDems, Labour and the Conservative MPs representing Scottish constituencies (who´d be made unemployed if there is a "yes" vote) for not following suit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 419.

    The argument that Scots shouldn't have self determination because the English don't have it doesn't wash! The vast majority of voters and MPs at Westminster are from English constituencies. If there was a real cry for change or a referendum then it would happen quickly. It is up to the English! Moaning about Scots doesn't help

  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    252. I guess it is like a marriage in a way. If Scotland decide to leave that's entirely up to them.

    I'd like to see the marriage/divorde analogy extended. WHat, if having heard th doubts of their partner expressed, England were ask whether they want to leave or not? Give the Scots (and the Welsh etc) their vote, but if they vote "No" ask the English whether they still want them......

  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    In response those in England who think they should get a vote: What would then happen if the majority in Scotland voted no but the majority in England voted yes? Are you seriously suggesting that Scotland should then become independent against the majority view in Scotland because of the vote of people who don't even live here? It is for that reason that only Scottish people should be voting.

  • Comment number 416.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    Well if Scotland goes native, that's just one more place i don't have to visit. although if Scotland does go native we shouldn't have any ships or rigs made there, and a boycott on shortbread (I`m told its fattening, but still lovely) and those damned oats (YUK!) boycott everything except whisky... ahem :D

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    I'm English and lived in Scotland for more than 30 years. Back in the '60s, before there was any oil, they had the SNP going for independence. It has to be about the lack of democracy with 8 Scots to 92 others what Scots want is not going to happen very often. Looking at the character of the people in Westminster, I fear for the Scots if they vote NO. What little they have will be taken from them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.


    "But why why will they not have a referendum for an English Parliament and for being in or out of EU."

    That is for the people of England to ask their politicians, but as yet they haven't.

    Start a campaign. Speak to your MP. Form a party.

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    I hope they leave. Then perhaps the free perscriptions Scots currently enjoy can be paid for by their own people and not subsidised by English taxpayers who don't enjoy the same luxury. Then once the money all dries up under Salmonds vision I guess us English can vote in our own referendum not to help them out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    Do the English really hate we Scots so much? With all the vitriolic statements and suggestions being put up here I think we should be very careful about what we wish for else you may just see us leave. You (English) really disappoint me. The details of independence or otherwise have not been written yet and already you have p****d us off with such comments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    332 pete Townsend

    2 pandas, 1 Tory ... was it that hard to work out?!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    For avoidance of doubt, please note that: English people do not think of Scotland as a free lunch or a punching bag; Westminster does subsidise Holyrood, despite poorly written articles written in the Spectator; and there is no ongoing Scottish/English antipathy, well not from this side of the border.

    I wish you well in your future venture as an independent nation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    Common themes run through debates on Scotland's future

    1 Scots believe they should decide their future, no one else!

    2 English people have views on Scotland future, positive & negative!

    3 English people have no view on their own future!

    England needs to find & define itself, keeping Scotland merely for the sake of it, frankly this looks ridiculous! England's better than that!

    C McK

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    The tipping point for an English backlash which could lead to a constitutional crisis is if the scenario where Liberals or Labour(on their own ) form a governement with the minority of MPs in England and with the help of Mps from other parts of what are now devolved assemblies and parliaments of Scotland, Wales and N Ireland and then with use these mps to push through laws in England.

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    93. Ewanmax

    I live Edinburgh and I as far as I can see we already have it better than England in many cases. free university, free prescriptions and plenty of investment in infrastructure. The whole thing strikes me as rather greedy
    I can't help imaging Alex Salmond and crew building a new castle on Arthurs seat, palm island off the coast of Aberdeen and the worlds tallest sky scraper in Glasgow

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    Here's his vision. Bend the rules and wait as long as possible in the hope that one day he might win and make Scotland even more anonymous than it is now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    I cannot believe Salmond is serious! We are a small Island and for Scotland to break away would be the height of stupidity.
    But all this has its origin in the fact that London does not care very much about the regions of England or Wales, Scotland and NI.
    This must be remedied by changing to a federal system with regional local governments; pretty much as Wales has now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    I cant believe some of the comments made on here, I for one will be voting for independance as it will be my democratic right to do so, so within reason to some I must hate the people of England for doing so? well, no, I do not, I personally have no problem with England or her people, I just want it so that we in Scotland run our OWN country, and if we make mistakes along the way, so be it...


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