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 682.

    Perhaps we should have a referendum on a British Republic, and be rid of these illegitimate hereditary Kingdoms & Principalities once and for all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 681.

    Salmond is missing a trick, he should be pressing for a referendum for all citizens of the uk on whether Scotland should be in the Union.

  • rate this

    Comment number 680.

    There is a very real danger this will progress because the voices of common sense think the idea too absurd to debate seriously. Please explain how Scotland could afford this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 679.

    The way the question is phrased is pretty sly as the built-in presupposition is that Scotland should be an independent county. The only question is whether or not the voter agrees or not. A less biased way of phrasing the question would be: Should Scotland be independent?

  • rate this

    Comment number 678.

    If Scotland decide to leave....will they take their share of the debt with them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 677.

    655.Special_SK - The Numerical Ninja

    "a half-measure which sees Scotland remain in the Union but with conditions detrimental to the rest of the UK cannot be decided by Scotland alone"

    I totally agree. The SNP make much of being given a mandate for a Referendum on Independence, but I don't recall their Manifesto saying much about "devo-max".
    So, Scots vote on Independence. UK to vote on owt else

  • rate this

    Comment number 676.

    #641. Your argument does succeed, there are a large number of successful independent nations, with equivalent and smaller populations.
    Too many arguments against are based on a perceived diminishing of England's status. Don't leave, I won't look so good, is not a convincing argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 675.

    "Scotland needs independence, the government in london only represents the people of england, they couldn't give a damn about scotland."

    How can you say that?? Our Scottish Prime Ministers (Blair/Brown) that you would have helped vote in didn't represent you? Now you know how we feel having any of them in.

    Gov. in London only represents themselves

  • rate this

    Comment number 674.

    Surely a question of greater devolution is one for the Westminster Parliament? you cannot have any elected body deciding what powers it is going to exercise within the greater body unilaterally; what would be next Manchester council deciding its own defence policy and Swindon opting out of the NHS?

    Scots can decide independance but any change in devolution has to be a decided by all UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 673.

    If i was to ask for an Independent Highlands and to stay in the UKwhat would Alex Salmond say? if he says NO he proves the hypocracy of his ideals. or yes, he would agree thaving a yet weaker independent Scotland.. my way of demonstrating that the SNPjust want it all their own way. Secondly: my pension is British...but suddenly it would be devalued with a conversion toEuros!

  • rate this

    Comment number 672.

    I have no problem with the Scots being asked if they would like to be independent from the UK, as long as any split is performed equitably. But I am against the question of re-negotiating the relationship, re-distribute powers etc. If a relationship is to continue on different terms then I think all of the relations should have a say in that relationship, not just the Scottish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 671.


    Oh dear, how you miss the point. If Scots get independence, all of the Scottish MPs will be booted out and will be cut off from Westminster - including funding.
    It is the Scots who will have no further say in the UK - finally the meddling from Scotland will be gone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 670.

    The Scottish Parliament building project was rescued with English taxpayers' money when it went TEN times over budget due to mismanagement. I am not proud of that.
    And have you ever seen an uglier building, inside and out?

  • rate this

    Comment number 669.

    I'm English and absolutely love Scotland and its people. Sentiments aside, I feel that a lot of what we're reading and watching is a combination of media and political spin - perhaps everyone would be in a better position to 'decide' if made more aware of the objective pros and cons of independence for both Scotland *and* the rest of the UK. Question things, don't just go-with-the-flow!

  • rate this

    Comment number 668.

    I'm Scottish as well as British. TRIaXOR it is your right to vote yes but also peoples right to vote no. If this is the most inportant vote in Scottish history, then it should be a mandatory vote and everyone in Scotland over 18 should be made to vote. It should also be if you don't vote, then you wish to stay part of Britain. If people decide not to vote, they are voting for the status quo.

  • rate this

    Comment number 667.

    Don't assume Northern English people don't feel English first and then Northern. I was once told I was like Scottish person with my "head kicked in" which was frankly offensive. They went on to tell me I would prefer to be Scottish. Certainly not!

  • rate this

    Comment number 666.

    As an Englishman I would like to vote on whether I think England should stay joined to Scotland. I'm not happy that the Scottish have double representation (Hollyrood & Westminster) and that we have the Scottish ruining England (Blair, Brown, Darling) despite this, they are still moaning. An independant Scotland - YES PLEASE !

  • rate this

    Comment number 665.

    This whole thing is a ridiculous waste of time. Salmond looks a complete idiot. I feel sorry for the Scottish. He's making you look naive.
    EU membership - re-apply, qualify, adopt the Euro - small player?
    Defence - pay the UK army to defend your borders and wider interests around the world? - hiring mercinaries?
    Currency - if not the Euro, keep Sterling - economic independence?
    When oil ends?

  • rate this

    Comment number 664.

    I like my British passport. I will be voting to keep it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 663.

    636. NobodyCaresAnymore
    The UK is a member, and as you would be leaving the UK you would not be a member.
    There is no precedent in the EU for a member nation to split in two. It seems no-one is really sure of the exact position. What I can say for certain is that the since DC's veto the UK has effectively isolated itself from the EU. They might take this opportunity to make the UK reapply.


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