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 1422.

    If Scotland always takes from England, then why are all the English right-wingers against it?
    Surely if Scotland benefited from being a part of the UK the right-wingers would want shut, like they do with Europe.

    Could it possibly be because Scotland has the oil? I really hope Scotland do gain independence, just like the US, it will be better financially to be rid of the right-wing leaches

  • rate this

    Comment number 1421.

    Until this matter is resolved one way or the other expenditure of BRITISH taxpayers money on SCOTTISH projects or projects with Scottish interests should cease immediatley im sure they will try to milk the british taxpayer for everything they can before they leave and with such a strong scottish contingent in westminster it will make for easy pickings. Its your money dont let them give it away!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1420.

    Alex Salmond's banter and chirpy chippiness is already tiring and we have 2 1/2 years still to go. Many Scots will be cheering his bashing of English toffs and tories and the real danger is in how many voters can be swept along by his grand-standing and sound-bite politics. He's pulling every oratory trick - even the question posed is a leading one 'do you agree..' A one man show - alarm bells!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1419.

    I do hope that Scots are aware that if if the vote is YES then it wiil cost them very dear in the long and the short term on virtually every aspect of their taxation , services , economy , housing , health and welfare , the Armed services - to name but a few of the things they have been accustomed to taking for granted .

  • rate this

    Comment number 1418.

    Interesting that Sean Connery wants Cameron to keep out of the debate on independence. I don't need to point out the flaws in an expat making such a point to a British resident.

    Are tax expats like Connery going to flood back to support Scotland? This will likely involve a significantly greater tax burden for all - assuming that Salmond continues with his bribe the electorate policies

  • rate this

    Comment number 1417.

    I believe that the whole of the Union should be able to vote on this. Scottish MPs have a place in Westminster and that has an impact on those living in other areas, not just Scotland... I for one would like to vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1416.

    Has anyone addressed the question of what portion of the UK national debt an independant Scotland would inherit?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1415.

    Ref #1386.haventascooby
    "What exactly do you think INDEPENDANCE means?"

    In fact it doesn't mean anything, try looking it up in an English dictionary.
    The correct word is independence. Back to primary school with you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1414.

    re : cantonboycardiff

    There won't be any oil war as each of the known assets and liabilities of the UK will be shared up based on some formula probably based on relative population sizes and the UK oil reserves are one of the known assets of the UK. So it'll be worked out fairly without a war.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1413.

    The emotive outbursts being displayed in these comments is very revealing, not least because so many ignore the facts, no matter how destructive these are for the argument/view being expressed.

    Even the "anyone not voting is voting for Britain" argument is being advanced, already used (and thoroughly discredited as unconstitutional) in the 1979 referendum when the majority voted for devolution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1412.

    Also to those saying Scottish Socialism is responsible for the economic crisis have you forgotten the Credit Crunch?, The Banking Crisis? Both of these catastrophies were caused by Anglo-Saxon Capitalism. Deregulation and free marketeering ruined our Economy. Many of the problems we have now link back to the policies of the very English Mrs Thatcher who destroyed manufacturing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1411.

    What kind of a cop-out question is that Alex? Agreeing to independence and wanting to leave the UK are entirely different things. I can agree with some points that Ed Miliband occasionally makes but it doesn't mean I want a Labour Government. Alex considers himself a canny operator, but may have just slipped on his own rather large discarded banana skin. I think it's insulting to our inteligence!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1410.

    I for one would be happy to see Scotland get her independence if that is what the people want. I guess this will mean no more Scottish MPs making decisions affecting me on the south coast of England. Oh and my tax will not be given to subsidise Scottish students over English students etc etc etc. VOTE YES!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1409.

    Just a thought.
    What happens if the Scots vote for independence in 2014 by a narrow margin ,have a change of heart and at the 2015 Scottish elections the SNP do not get a working majority?
    Does the whole thing start again in years to come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1408.

    Can we have a vote as to whether we keep Scotland in the Union or not please

  • rate this

    Comment number 1407.

    I am not an accountant but how much of the 1 trillion pound UK national debt is an independant Scotland going to have and will thay want to buy RBoS back from the UK govenrment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1406.

    Politician never seem to get it right do they, in Scotland the main party wants out of the uk but the people dont (according to the polls) in England the main party wants them in the uk but the people dont (according to the polls) why is it that MP's are so out of touch

  • rate this

    Comment number 1405.

    You can still be a proud Scot, Welshman, Irish person, even Englishman and be part of the union. That is what makes it special. All constituents have made unmeasurable contributions to the success of the UK. We need a new Magna Carta/Bill of Rights in this UK so it is fit and fair for all its citizens, not breaking up a union that has historically shaped the World and lasted for over 300 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1404.

    @1375 Justin

    The russians and the chinese may help.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1403.

    @1347 The UK (Westminster) designated the scottish sector in the North Sea but has not actually given Scotland jurisdiction over the oil fields, they belong to UK (England), Norway and various others. IF scotland gained jurisdiction over the oil fields within their maritime boundaries they would only have enough to plug the gap in UK funding for 15 years and then it starts to dry up.


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