Scottish independence: Call for review of referendum question

Umbrella at polling station The SNP want to see a vote on the issue of independence in the autumn of 2014

Opposition leaders have pressed for an independent commission to draw up the question to be put in Scotland's independence referendum.

First Minister Alex Salmond wants voters should be asked: "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?"

Critics warn this encourages a yes vote by not mentioning an end to the Union.

The call for to review the question comes ahead of next week's launch of the campaign to keep the UK.

The Scottish Labour Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders have written jointly to Mr Salmond, suggesting there should be an independent commission to draft the question.

They intend to sound out Ron Gould, the Canadian elections expert who examined the Holyrood voting system in the aftermath of the 2007 Scottish election fiasco.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, said: "Whatever the result of this referendum, it is vital that the day after it all of Scotland can come together to build a better future for our nation.

"If we are to achieve that then the process of the referendum must be beyond question.

Leaders letter to the first minister

Following the cross-party meeting on February 9, 2012, between yourself and the opposition leaders there was a general agreement to meet again to reach a consensus on the issues surrounding the referendum.

Since that date, no further talks have been suggested by the first minister's office.

Therefore, we would like to extend an invitation to meet with us before the end of the Parliamentary term next week, as your diary allows.

The substantial issue is the wording of the referendum question and we very much hope to have a constructive discussion on producing a form of words that the people of Scotland can have confidence in.

To that end we would like to discuss with you taking this process out of the hands of elected politicians and asking a body of relevant experts to suggest one question which can then be put to the Electoral Commission.

We believe that an eminent academic of similar standing to Prof Ron Gould should be tasked with assembling such a group which all parties can then agree.

We are sure you agree that ensuring that the public have the utmost confidence in the fairness of this referendum is paramount and we believe we can, and must, work together to achieve this.

We look forward to a speedy response.

"That is why we believe that the process of setting a single question should be taken out of the hands of elected politicians and given to relevant experts the public can have faith in."

The Tories' Ruth Davidson, added: "The people of Scotland deserve a fair question that will frame the most important decision Scotland has faced in 300 years.

"Such a task should be given to respected constitutional experts, who are best placed to decide on the fairest form of words to be put on the ballot paper for the proposed referendum, and all parties need to be satisfied with the process."

Willie Rennie, the Liberal Democrat leader, argued: "Every example from across the world shows that if the question asked is not fair and unambiguous, then the debate leading up to the vote is more likely to become confused."

Mr Salmond, who will reply to the letter "in due course" has already said the Electoral Commission watchdog will advise on the suitability of options presented to them ahead of the expected autumn 2014 referendum.

A spokesman for Scottish government Parliament Secretary Bruce Crawford said the opposition call had been overtaken by events.

"The anti-independence parties said that they wanted the independent Electoral Commission to test the referendum question, and that is exactly what will happen," said the spokesman.

"The Scottish government announced in May that, as well as the Electoral Commission having responsibility for regulating the referendum, as set out in our consultation document, the commission will also test the ballot paper, including the question.

"And this will be done in autumn/winter 2012, as provided for in the referendum timetable detailed on page 14 of the consultation document.

"It means that Scotland's referendum will exactly reflect the terms of Westminster legislation governing all other referendums in the UK - the government propose the question or questions, the Electoral Commission advise on the question or questions, and parliament decides.

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