Scotland politics

Scottish independence: Committee MPs criticises referendum question

Ballot boxes
Image caption The MPs claimed supporters of independence were acting as "player and referee"

The Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster has criticised the Scottish government's proposed question in the independence referendum.

The MPs said the wording suggested by the Scottish government is "biased".

They carried out research, which they said indicated voters were more likely to respond "yes" to the question than to possible alternative versions.

The SNP has said the exercise carried out by the MPs was "devoid of credibility".

The Scottish government has indicated that the question to be put to voters in 2014 is likely to be: "Do you agree that Scotland should become an independent country?"

The committee said it found that adding the phrase "or disagree" reduced the number of voters giving a positive response.

It also tested a third version of the question, which read: "Should Scotland become an independent country or should it remain part of the United Kingdom?"

This further reduced the number of voters saying "yes".

The chairman of the committee, Ian Davidson MP, said: "We cannot have a contest in which separatists are both player and referee.

"That goes against every notion of fairness and transparency.

"It must be for the Electoral Commission, an experienced and neutral body, to oversee the process and, crucially, to test alternative questions and words to make sure that any referendum question will be clearly understood."

A spokesman for Scottish government minister Bruce Crawford said: "This exercise is devoid of credibility."

He added: "The Scottish government's proposed referendum question is straightforward and fair - as acknowledged by Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson - and the 'agree' formulation was also used in Labour's 1997 devolution referendum, and is the same wording used by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition for local referendums in England.

"As set out in the consultation document, the ballot paper will be subject to testing during autumn and winter this year, and we will be delighted to receive advice from the Electoral Commission and other electoral professionals."

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